Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The Dolphins come into the 2021 draft with some forward momentum. They finished last season at 10-6, narrowly missing the playoffs behind four teams that finished just one win better. They presumably have one of the most difficult positions figured out for the long-term with Tua Tagovailoa behind center. They have managed these successes while also being the youngest team in the league. Superficially speaking, that’s good news for Dolphins’ fans. They should remain a problem for the rest of the NFL going forward.
However, there is always room for improvement. Tua’s rookie season left a lot to be desired, but that was hardly all the quarterback’s fault. The offense as a whole was handcuffed by a dearth of playmaking talent. The offensive line wasn’t in constant flux but had to deal with some injuries. The defense was the saving grace for a lot of the year. Even there, however, Miami will need to make gains. To determine what Miami needs to do come draft time, we need to analyze their performance from the prior season. Let’s start by taking a deeper look at their offense in 2020.
Miami’s offense was below average according to most counting stats. They were 22nd in total yards and 21st in yards per play. They were 20th and 22nd in passing and rushing yards, respectively. The place they most notably struggled was in running the ball, averaging a measly 3.9 yards per attempt (29th). While the modern NFL dictates one need not run to have an effective offense, that part of the game can help relieve pressure from a rookie quarterback that’s struggling to carry the load.
In looking at the run game, how can we apportion the blame for its problems? Let’s start with the easiest target: the backfield personnel. Miami’s leading rusher last season was Myles Gaskin. Only a sophomore in the league, Gaskin was Miami’s 7th round pick (234) from the 2019 draft. Gaskin was never expected to provide a ton as a depth option behind Matt Breida and Jordan Howard. Instead, he took over when he was healthy, also providing utility as a receiving outlet, although he dealt with an MCL sprain and Covid issues that caused him to miss time. Breida, meanwhile, never broke out, and recently signed with Buffalo Bills. Howard was jettisoned during the season, sent back to the Eagles where he recently re-signed.
Behind Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, the other Washington product, stepped forward. He was the undrafted rookie that is prominently featured in NFL backfields these days. Showing off some juice against the Patriots in Week 15, Ahmed racked up 122 yards on 23 carries. In the end, he lost the featured role when Gaskin returned.
Miami’s backfield pedigree doesn’t lend itself to “untouchable” status. They have some young talent that might offer versatility, and they recently signed Malcolm Brown away from the Rams. In today’s NFL, the Dolphins may think they have enough to manage, but I believe most internal and external auditors agree that the Dolphins will probably want to grab more premium talent at this position in the near future.
Aside from the backs themselves, the offensive line also has a big say in how the running game goes. Miami’s offensive line was mostly stable last year, ranking 7th in “Offensive Line Continuity” according to Football Outsiders, but they relied heavily on young guns with three rookies soaking up a lot of minutes.
Austin Jackson, the 18th overall pick in 2020, started at left tackle when he was healthy. Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley manned the right side of the line for most of the year. Analysts projected Hunt to slide inside at the NFL level, but he acquitted himself well as a right tackle, where he played during his senior year when not injured. Kindley, meanwhile, was inconsistent at right guard. He played on the left side through much of his college career. The Dolphins also have former first-round pick Ereck Flowers to man the other guard position, having spent $30 million to lure him away from the Giants.
The line had to go through some growing pains early on, expected when relying on three rookies. They did have two of their best games rushing in the final three weeks, even putting up 250 yards against New England in Week 15. They finished the season 23rd in Rush DVOA and 24th in adjusted line yards. They were also 21st in Stuffed Rate, which isn’t an encouraging sign when evaluating the line. However, the Dolphins were 29th and 26th in open field and second-level rushing yards, respectively. To me, that’s a sign the backs did not help matters.
To diagnose further, they clearly had more trouble running right up the gut behind Karras. Ted finished the year as PFF’s 17th best center – good is pass protection but poor otherwise – and the team was rated 28th in Middle/Guard yards. Miami had much more success behind its rookie tackles, finishing as high as 4th in Right Tackle yards and 3rd in Left End yards. The finished numbers weren’t great, by any means, but there is some promise and progress.
In passing the ball, Miami had a bit more success, even with a rookie at the helm. Tua was yanked out of a couple games and had his issues as a rookie in the NFL, but he performed better than some big-time names that had “down” rookie seasons (e.g. Peyton Manning). Where Tua struggled the most was throwing the ball down the field, and his 65.2 grade on 10+ yard throws compared poorly to other rookies Joe Burrow (87.3) and Justin Herbert (89.6). Miami as a unit finished 20th in passing yards and 23rd in passing touchdowns. They finished 18th in Pass DVOA, a slight upgrade over the rushing numbers.
Tua’s individual DVOA was good enough for 26th. He did manage to finish 9th in ALEX (air less expected yards), which generally means he was attacking on 3rd downs. Unfortunately, Miami’s poor conversion rate there (38%) probably means they were too inconsistent, offensively.
In terms of protection, the line finished about average relative to the league. Their sack rate at 5.73% was middle of the road (15th). Tua was sacked at a higher rate than his teammate, Ryan Fitzpatrick (20 to 14). There’s nothing particularly shocking about Miami’s passing game numbers, in truth. They were average to slightly below all year long. An upgrade is needed. In all, though, the offensive line was a massive improvement over their 2019 selves with all the new personnel changes. They finished 32nd in 2019 across many different metrics. Granted, they couldn’t really do worse, but considering the improvement over 2020 while still playing three rookies in crucial roles, that’s a spot of hope for the future.
In contrast to the offense, Miami survived on the backs of their defense for stretches of play. They certainly weren’t flashy by yardage counting stats, finishing 19th in total yards allowed and 24th in yards per play. However, Miami finished 1st in the league in third-down conversion percentage at 31%, allowing 3.6 third-down conversions per game. Their scoring defense was just fine, finishing 4th by allowing 21.1 points/game. They were also first in takeaways with 29 total, leading the league with 18 picks (tied with three other teams). Only 30.7% of their opponents’ drives ending with a score, 4th best in the NFL last season.
Clearly, the defense was a bright spot, in many ways. With the offense struggling, the defense was able to keep the team in the game by limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities and being generally stingy. In efficiency terms, Miami was 11th in total DVOA but 6th in Pass DVOA, their obvious strong suit.
At the schematic level, Miami’s bread and butter was the blitz. They were 2nd in the league in blitz rate (40.8%), forcing the other side to make mistakes under pressure. They allowed only 21 passing touchdowns all season. However, despite the blitzing tendencies, Miami’s hurry percentage of 9.2% was middle-of-the-road. They tied for 10th in total sacks with 41. They were 13th in tackles for loss. Excluding team sack leader Emmanuel Ogbah, most of Miami’s sacks came from the second level of their hybrid 3-4 defense. Despite typically using 3-man fronts, they don’t necessarily deploy their defensive ends in 5-technique positions, and that will be an important point later.
In the defensive backfield, Miami is now employing a lot more Cover-0 and Cover-3 than in years previous. They like to disguise their defensive looks with movement among the front-seven. They’ll often position linebackers in the A-gaps at the start and then drop them off into coverage. The Dolphins seem to maximize that versatility with athleticism. You won’t look at the roster and see a lot that jumps off the page in terms of pure talent, but they absolutely make it work by understanding their players strengths and weaknesses.
Where Miami needs to improve the most is against the run game. A lot of that is on the defensive line. They were last for a while during the season and finished 22nd in that category (DVOA). The Dolphins’ defense was ranked 26th in Power Success Rate, which essentially measures how effective opposing offenses were in short-yardage runs in high-leverage situations. Finishing 16th in stuffed rate isn’t terrible, but clearly could use some improvement. They also had one of the slowest defensive lines in football, so I think finding a combination of power and speed here would help considerably.
To make matters worse, they lose a couple key starters in Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy. Lawson had a relatively hefty price tag incoming but wasn’t meeting those expectations on the field, so Miami traded him to Houston for Benardrick McKinney. It was a similar situation for Van Noy, who was waived by the Dolphins and returned to New England, although that might have been a case of ill-fitting personality, another footnote we’ll discuss again later.
Miami has been busy when it comes to the free agent market. Their most notable additions were Will Fuller at wide receiver, a position they have limited depth outside of Davante Parker, and Jacoby Brissett. The former Indy QB provides some veteran relief for Tua if things go south, but he’s nothing more than a stop-gap on a one-year deal. Theoretically, Miami could still be interested in drafting a QB, although I doubt they have intentions to do that high in the 1sr round (or they wouldn’t have moved back from the three spot).
At center, Miami signed Matt Skura in free agency to replace Ted Karras who departed for New England. It’s also only a one-year deal, but he’s the presumed starter right now. Jesse Davis will continue to lead the 2nd unit with his versatility. He played three different positions last season as the young guys moved in and out with various injuries.
Other than that, Miami has mostly been building alone the fringes. They’ve brought in depth competition at corner (Justin Coleman) and another wide receiver (Robert Foster). The aforementioned Malcolm Brown (RB) will add another dimension to their rushing game (a bit more power than finesse). Adam Butler along the interior defensive line will replace Davon Godchaux – more player swapping between Miami and New England. Did I mention yet Brian Flores is a disciple of Bill Belichick?
Other outside hires include Brennan Scarlett and Duke Riley, both at linebacker. More versatile players that can provide help in special teams and along the second level of the 3-4 defense. Miami also re-signed a number of other players already rostered last season.
As for losses, the biggest ones I’ve already discussed. Lawson and Van Noy in the defensive front-seven were two of their most talented players, but neither were contributing at levels that could be seen as irreplaceable, individually. Between them they contributed 10 sacks on the season. Vince Biegel is coming back from an achilles tear and could chip in a couple (he had 2.5 in 2019). Maybe the young guns all improve a little and combine to add a few more to their totals. Overall, though, the obvious place to find those 10 sacks isn’t on the roster, and it certainly wasn’t addressed in free agency, leaving a relatively big hole to fill.
Miami also has that offensive playmaker role unfilled. Will Fuller has proven to be a fine deep threat when he’s healthy. Alongside Parker, some may say that’s enough, but none of the other receivers on the depth chart have proven themselves yet. They are all young, of course, so the potential remains, but I think Miami will add at least one WR in the draft. Mike Gesicki did continue to progress at tight end.
The other problem is Miami still lacks playmakers in the backfield. The signing of Malcolm Brown doesn’t fix their issues. He’s their thunder compared to Gaskin and Ahmed, but none of these players are bell cows or world beaters. That means, aside from receiver, the Dolphins are going to want to add talent at the RB position, too.
Most of what Miami did during this offseason could be considered quantity over quality, but it should be said that they don’t have a ton of “fun money” to throw around. They only have a shade under $7 million available, all of which is needed to sign their upcoming draft picks. They’ll have a lot more space next season - $53 million – to fill remaining holes.
After running through Miami’s free agency maneuvers, we’ve whittled down to what their exact needs are come draft time. As I detailed, the Dolphins need serious playmakers on offense to help their QB. Speed along the edges is a big plus. Wide receiver and running back are obvious, but Miami can address their need for speed by getting any sort of hybrid player, as well.
Elsewhere on offense, Miami’s young offensive line should have room to grow. Having spent three picks last season on improving the line, it is hard to see Miami going right back to that well (at least at premium pick positions), but you can never have too many good offensive linemen. I think the biggest long-term need remains at center. Matt Skura might not be around beyond this year.
You could also argue there’s a need at right tackle, albeit less immediate. Assuming Austin Jackson remains their primary option on the left side, the Dolphins need to determine if Hunt can stay at right tackle or if he needs to slide inside. He was promising down the stretch, and Kindley also showed promise at guard, so there could be some debate about whether you need a starter here or simply more depth.
On defense, the most obvious hole is along the edge, pass-rushing and run stopping. Ideally, the draft could provide someone that can do both, but there isn’t a ton of edge talent in the 2021 draft. It is thin at the top. They’ll likely want to address this position early to find someone to play opposite Ogbah, and a bonus for any player that can serve as a utility knife.
At the second level, the Dolphins have a ton of bodies, but there isn’t much high-level talent. Granted, they’ve done a great job getting blood from a stone, so to speak. I think they need to get some true developmental talent, however. Getting another versatile player, someone who could possibly get down into a stance and stand up in coverage, would do wonders. Baker is on the final year of his first contract, while Roberts and Biegel are on one-year deals only.
The final remaining need is probably at safety. Like at LB, they have a bunch of players rostered to fill their minimum needs, but it’s hard to see which players might fit in on a longer basis, and we don’t really know how the younger guys will develop. Given Coach Flores’ tendency to run Cover-0, the Dolphins may be interested in a safety that is adept at blitzing and filling multiple roles.
Team Needs – C, Edge, RB, WR, LB, OT, S
Knowing Miami’s needs, now we can focus on their overall draft strategy.
The Dolphins currently have nine (9) picks in the 2021 draft, with six of those coming within the first three rounds. That’s a lot of ammunition for a team to build with, either grabbing as many lottery tickets as they can, or using a few of those picks to move into more premium positions. Four of those picks are within the Top-50.
Miami already had 11 picks last season. Other than Curtis Weaver, whom the Dolphins waived and had hoped to place on IR, they still have the entirety of that rookie class to develop. With all the young talent to balance, it might not be surprising to see Miami skip making all their available selections this year. Maybe they will look to pick up 2022 draft picks and see how their talent grows after another year (and who is worth keeping).
We already know Miami likes to make trades, so let’s look at the odds of them steering within the draft this time around.
Chris Grier has been the Dolphins’ GM for six years now. Over that time, he’s never been afraid to make moves involving draft picks. Just last year, he made 11 different trades prior to the 2020 draft, either bringing in new draft picks and/or moving some plus players. During the 2020 draft, the Dolphins made the following trades:
- Trade Down – 26th for 30 and 136 (From Packers)
- Trade Up – 111 (From Texans) for 136 and 141
- Trade – 153 for Matt Breida (From 49ers)
- Trade Up – 164 (From Eagles) for 173 and 227
- Trade Down – 251 for a 2021 6th round pick (From Seahawks)
While that isn’t typical of the GM, only two trades during the 2019 draft (both down) and none during the 2018 iteration, it does demonstrate he’s not at all reticent to trade picks or players, if necessary. Historical precedent indicates it’s about a 50/50 chance whether Grier moves up or down, so let’s see what possibilities lie ahead for 2021.
TRADING UP – Given Miami’s situation owning nine picks already and having made a lot of picks last year, I think there is a decent chance that Grier goes ahead and moves up again at some point during the draft. Of course, Miami has already traded up and down in this draft, moving their 3rd overall pick to San Francisco, and then moving the 12th pick they received to Philly to get up to the 6th spot. They lost their own first-rounder next year, replacing it with a first-rounder they gained from San Francisco. They also added a first-round pick for 2023.
We can’t rule out the possibility that Miami tries to grab an additional first-round pick this time, but with all their other moves and the additional premium selections they’ve grabbed for future years, I don’t know if it’s all that likely. If Miami does trade up, I think it is more probable they do it on Day 2, using their two second-round picks and two third-round picks. A Day 3 move-up is less likely because Miami only has three picks on Day 3, and none of them are that great (one 5 and two 7s).
Balanced against the other options we’ll discuss, I give them a 40% chance to trade up, most likely on Day 2, but all options are on the table.
TRADING DOWN – As I previously mentioned, Miami has technically traded down once thus far (from 3 to 12). Now they sit at 6 and 18 in the first round. Those are decent picks and Miami could absolutely use both, along with another seven picks in this draft. Truthfully, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for Miami to trade down in this draft, unless we’re talking about Miami “postponing” picks from this year and exchanging them for 2022 selections.
In that sense, I think a trade down is also a strong possibility. Basically, even odds. Miami might not want nine new players when they are already extremely young and have a lot of players to evaluate during the 2021 season. Deferring a couple of those selections until 2022 might help them out as they run their evaluations and get a better sense of what they need long-term.
Of course, there’s also something to be said for the value of draft picks in 2021 versus 2022. There’s a bit of added risk in this year’s draft class because of how the college season went and the number of opt-outs. Also, a lot of players elected to hang around for another year, and it looks like next year’s class will be fully loaded. Grier hasn’t totally discounted this year’s draft as he did move back up to #6, so it remains to be seen exactly how much he’s willing to gamble.
If Miami does end up trading down, I think it is more likely they move 2021 picks for 2022 selections. I don’t think it’s as likely the Dolphins move a single pick for more picks in the same draft. They already have extra picks in this draft and had 11 choices in 2020. At some point, you can’t balance or retain all the young talent.
In considering that reality, I’d estimate Miami has a 40% chance of trading down, but almost certainly between years, only, and not for more picks in 2021 (unless they also pair that move with another upward exchange).
STAYING PUT – The final option is Miami making no additional moves and simply taking all the choices they currently own. That’s also a very real possibility because Miami has a few needs to fill and has uncertain talent at almost every position.
On paper, Miami is a team of fledglings, the youngest in the NFL (at least at the start of last season). They haven’t added a lot of veterans to the mix, so nothing looks to change for 2021. Considering that notion, alone, I think it lends credence to the idea that Miami won’t want or need all their draft picks this time around. Adding too much additional young talent to the already young roster could become hard to manage.
That said, drafting is one of those propositions where the odds are improved with quantity, so Miami may elect to use all their selections and let the chips fall where they may. With the uncertainty surrounding wide receiver and running back selections, especially, it’s not a bad idea to grab multiple players and let competition filter the cream of the crop.
I do think standing pat is the least likely outcome for the Dolphins in this draft. It is perhaps more probable they move up or down, or a combination of the two, as opposed to doing nothing else. I’d give them a 20% chance to simply stay put and take the nine picks they have currently.
For this draft, I have one option and one option only: take someone at 18. Ideally, the best player left.
THE 18th PICK
Last year, I made the unfortunate mistake of attempting to decipher the draft strategy I thought the Broncos might employ. In all fairness, the Broncos had the good fortune of having Jerry Jeudy fall into their lap, while I had no such luck. This time, I’ve decided to simply make the selection based on the player I like and how I think they fit with the Dolphins. Whether Grier will follow the same ideals, I don’t know.
Going back to Miami’s needs, I struggled to balance what they most require outside of offensive playmakers. My fellow Miami GM (20Safety_Hazard) helped ease my decision-making process a little, because it took one of the more obvious needs off the board (WR). Combining the addition of Pitts and acquisition Will Fuller does a lot for Miami’s offense. Pitts’ playmaking ability is off the charts.
Additionally, I don’t love the idea of drafting running backs in the first round in the modern NFL. Miami has a lot of picks and given the limited reliance on the running game in contemporary professional football, I think a better use of resources would be to use the 18th pick on something other than running back, even though there are attractive options available.
In my mind, then, that left two clear needs: center and defensive end. I also considered linebacker and right tackle, but I’ll get into those options later. Of course, this is all balanced against the need to make it easy and take the BPA (best player available), always a subjective tenet.
My Top-20 Big Board looked like this:
Coming into my pick, then, and we see what members of this Top-20 remained: Kwity Paye, Caleb Farley, Christian Darrisaw, and the two running backs. When overlaying this list with Miami’s most pertinent needs, there were a handful of players that stood out. As expected, the best skill-position talent in this draft went early and often. All four pass catchers went in the Top Eleven, including Pitts to the Dolphins, so those were off the table.
Another possibility was Micah Parsons, as I think he would fit well into Miami’s attacking, downhill defense, and he can probably play inside or out. He went 13th to the Chargers.
Farley is a promising prospect, without a doubt, and he was worth considering. However, the Dolphins are well stocked at corner. Xavien Howard looks like a perennial pro bowler, and Byron Jones just signed a big ole’ contract in 2020 (5-years, $82 million). You can debate the price per performance ratio with that contract, or the scheme fit for Jones in Flores’ defense, but at least right now, there’s no real path for Farley to see time. Absent injury, he’d have to develop on the bench, and Miami probably doesn’t want to take someone at 18 that might not have impact for a couple years or longer. If there are other options, I don’t either.
Enter Kwity Paye.
With the 18th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select . . .
Kwity Paye, Defensive End, Michigan
As I’ve already discussed, Miami has a pressing need for edge defenders. The trade of Lawson and the waiver of Van Noy opened a door. The Dolphins did not close that door during free agency, instead deferring the role, most likely, until draft time.
So, the ultimate question is: why take Paye? The most obvious reason: BPA. However, there’s surely more as to the “why” Paye makes a good fit and pick for the Dolphins in this instance. Let’s start by looking at the player.
Kwity Paye was born in a refugee camp in Guinea before moving to the U.S. He was rated the #1 player out of Rhode Island by ESPN as a recruit. To give an idea of the guy’s athleticism, he played QB, RB, WR, and LB in high school. After committing to Michigan, he appeared in a few games as a freshman, but didn’t earn a start until his sophomore season, and from then on, he’s been a mainstay. He started all 12 games as a junior and was primed to continue as a senior until the season went upside-down. He did start the four games he played, though he missed a couple weeks with a groin injury. That said, Michigan only played six games as it is, three having been cancelled due to Covid-related illness or tracing. With the apparent weakness at defensive end in this draft, it made a lot of sense for Paye to declare.
Aside from that minor injury as a senior, Paye has been healthy (as healthy as a high-level football player can be, anyway). That’s a definite plus in his corner, especially compared to other top tier edge rushers in this class. Speaking to his character: he was voted as a captain by his teammates, and Don Brown once called him the smartest player he ever coached. High praise all-around.
Now one of the main knocks against Paye is his lack of collegiate production. This is always a difficult argument when it comes to projecting NFL-level play, but it isn’t totally without merit – in certain cases. You might look at Rousseau’s 15.5 sacks in 2019 and get the wrong impression as to Paye’s abilities. Although he hasn’t put up gaudy numbers at Michigan (11.5 career sacks), a lot of what he does isn’t translated into pure counting stats. Even so, he’s clearly progressed each year, and that’s perhaps more important. In just four games last season, Paye had 29 total pressures. He led Michigan in that figure by double digits, and that’s while playing all around the defensive front.
As an athlete, what you’re getting is downright elite. Here’s a look at Kwity’s RAS card:
Keep in mind, this card does not include Paye’s 3-cone time, a whiplash-inducing 6.37 seconds that he ran last summer before the football season started. He didn’t re-run it at his pro day, probably because he knew there was no way to beat that time. That score would qualify as the second-fastest combine 3-cone ever. The video is available if you’re curious.
In all honesty, I doubt he’d ever hit that number with official time, but even if you take a half-second of grace, a 6.87 would be the best DE in the class. For reference, Rondale Moore clocked a 6.68 seconds 3-cone. All done by a guy that’s putting up 36 reps in the bench, landing him in the 99th percentile among defensive ends. On the other side for comparison, Rousseau ran a 7.5 3-cone that would fall into the 34th percentile. Noted stiffness.
Obviously, you rely more on the tape than the after-school workout, but there’s a foundation there for NFL teams to tap into. It will all come down to development to maximize his pass-rush abilities. On that note, let’s get into the tape.
The best way to understand a player is to watch the film. Let’s start with his prowess as a pass rusher. Paye can truly rush the passer from both inside and outside leverage and could almost certainly fit in any defensive front.
One example, Paye is lined up essentially into a wide-9 technique, set well outside the tackle. From here, he must rely on his speed and burst to blow by the tackle and beeline straight to the quarterback. He’s fast enough to do it. He wasn’t always lined up this wide, but he was – most often – lined up outside the tackle.
We can see a couple more examples of his speed from outside here:
Next, we can see another type of pass rush, taking the inside route:
Paye shows immaculate hip bend and burst on this play, ducking down inside of the tackle from Rutgers off a single plant step. It doesn’t lead to a sack, but it forces the QB to throw erratically. He makes a similar move against Minnesota here:
He’s not lined up as wide, but he makes a quick hop-step inside the guard and then immediately bursts up field toward the QB. Paye moves so fast, even the RB, that has him almost squared up, completely whiffs on the block.
This play against Indiana is another example of Paye taking an inside route. The move is a bit more deliberate, less pure burst, but his side-step and swim are quick enough to get inside the tackle, who gets caught off balance, and to also beat the guard who tries to help on the stunt.
Kwity has demonstrated an ability to power-rush, as well. He looks good getting tackles off balance or forcing them upright and getting underneath their anchor. This is where his smaller size (relatively speaking) and lower center of gravity can benefit him.
In the latter clip, Paye is able to both push the tackle backwards, forcing the runner to take a wider arc around the end, and break from the block with his arms extended to grab the runner. I find Kwity to look more impressive at times from an upright stance, even if it sounds counter-intuitive.
Then there’s the combo move. Take a look here:
He’s once again set pretty wide, allowing him to develop some momentum getting into the tackle. The tackle is coming downhill in a run block stance, and Paye exploits this with a quick jab and then pull, using the tackle’s own inertia against him. He makes a quick juke inside to latch onto the runner and make the TFL.
One of Paye’s best attributes is his motor. We’ve already seen a little bit of that, but here’s a more complete example of how he keeps his feet moving constantly:
He starts with a bit of a power-rush, then sees an opening inside and tries to cut between the tackle and guard. The guard rotates around to help because he’s doubling up with the center. The tackle comes a bit too far inside, and Kwity exploits this, spinning within the double team and churning through the block. He doesn’t quite make the tackle, but he throws the QB off enough to allow teammates to clean it up.
I wanted to mention one last positive trait, but I think it is more of a projection than the rest of his game. Paye didn’t stand up off-ball very often, so expecting him to have a big role at the next level as a coverage backer is unlikely. However, I think he’s fluid and athletic enough to drop into coverage on occasion, if for no other reason than to decoy or confuse the offense. Here’s a quick look at what I mean:
There’s not much to this, overall. It merely shows how Kwity can move in open space. It also shows another way he lined up at Michigan, basically as a nose tackle right over the center. He immediately drops off the rush, though. Perhaps it was schemed that way, but it looks like he diagnoses a potential pass into the flat or quick screen. He adeptly maneuvers below the drag and slides around without much effort. Once the pass is out, Paye is attacking the ball carrier. He isn’t needed in the end, but I think you can see the point. He moves well enough in space to work on combo/zone blitzes where the backers hit the gaps and the defensive front sags into zone coverage. It is another part of his game that wasn’t utilized a lot at Michigan, but I think projects decently at the next level.
It has all looked good, so far, but like any other player, Paye is not perfect. There are a couple negatives to his game. The biggest negative that I can think of is his lack of pass-rush sophistication. In watching tape, I noticed Kwity didn’t have a ton of finesse moves. You would expect his athleticism to show up in tape more than it does, especially considering how elite it is.
That’s something that can be improved at the next level. We’re talking about working on technical aspects of his development. What you can’t teach is effort, and Kwity gives it all. That’s the good. All he needs to work on is his technique and expand his repertoire of pass-rush moves.
Along with his technical limitations comes, at times, an inability to break away or through blocks. Here is one example:
Kwity immediately diagnoses the screen play, but he gets lost behind the guard – one that isn’t even blocking him in the strictest sense – and can’t seem to figure out a way around. Here’s where a swim and rip or punch might help. Kwity doesn’t use heavy hands and a punch too often. He’s got the power to do it, so there’s really no reason.
Here’s another example of him getting lost, albeit in a different sense:
It’s a read-option, and that certainly isn’t easy to defend, but Paye gets caught flat-footed and ends up freezing. He doesn’t make a move on the runner or the QB. You’d like to see him commit to one or the other, but he can sometimes have trouble thinking through a play. It isn’t a consistent problem. Perhaps that’s more of a nitpick, something that can happen to all players on occasion.
His footwork is also a little choppy at times. Ultimately, though, Paye’s biggest weaknesses are technical in nature. The effort and motor are there. He didn’t play along the line in high school. He doesn’t take plays off. He’ll pursue the ballcarrier through the next level. There’s a lot more to like than dislike, but there is also a level of projection with Paye based on traits. Always a little inherent risk with that trade-off.
The tape is all well and good, but how does Paye fit with Miami from a schematic sense?
Fit in Miami
I would be remiss to not mention that this draft is quite thin at the edge. I’ll discuss the alternatives later, but Paye is my #1 defensive end in this draft, and I think he’ll fit in quite well on Miami’s defense for plenty of reasons. I mentioned two of them earlier: (1) the lack of necessity for a traditional 5-tech despite the odd man front, and (2) the character of the player and his fit with Miami’s culture.
Also, let’s compare Paye to someone that Miami recently lost, Shaq Lawson:
As you can see, they compare quite comfortably in terms of size and performance, though Paye is on a slightly higher tier, athletically. Lawson was the more polished pass rusher coming out. The point is, any concerns about Paye’s size or lack of length is unfounded, and the “player comparison” I see often is Emmanuel Ogbah, Miami’s other defensive end that broke out last season.
Lawson’s role in Miami was as a rush end. Basically, his primary job was to rush the passer, but like Paye, he was a versatile rusher that could move around on the line (from 3 to 9). At Michigan, Paye was typically lined up outside the tackles, but he was tasked with squeezing down into 1 and 3 roles. He was also forced to stand up often, and at times even looked better in that position.
Paye can sack the quarterback from any of those positions. Part of his production issues may stem from Michigan moving him around so often, flipping strong and weak sides, changing techniques, etc. Either way, Paye is a similar player to Lawson in many areas, and Lawson probably stays around if he isn’t so expensive (combined with the underwhelming production).
There might be a fair question as to whether Paye fits better in an even-front scheme, but Miami uses a lot of different looks up front that sticking to the traditional “5-0-5” for fit isn’t relevant. Here’s how he lined up at Michigan over the years according to PFF:
The Dolphins ran a “TNT” front (3-0-3) often with two outside linebackers setup outside the tackles. They used four-man fronts (9-3-3-9) with two inside backers showing pressure in the A-gaps. They also used more traditional 5-1-5 fronts. Of course, for as much as Miami blitzed, they would frequently disguise their blitzes or fake and drop the backers into coverage.
The fact that Miami utilizes such a hybrid and varied defensive scheme means they need players that can fulfill a few different roles. Kwity Paye is such a player, and Michigan attempted to use him that way. I think Flores is a smart enough defensive coach that he can maximize Paye’s strengths and use him well, even if traditionalists think he wouldn’t fit in an odd-front defense.
Paye’s character is also important, the lack of which may have led to Van Noy’s departure. I mentioned a couple ways his character was highlighted at Michigan, but Miami will have a much better sense of it after completing their interviews.
If I haven’t done well enough to sell you on this idea, there are some other players Miami can explore.
I wanted to look at some possibilities if this draft followed an alternate timeline. These are guys that I would happily select if Paye was gone, or maybe Miami takes someone else at #6 that changes the approach for the 18th pick.
- Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – I already talked about why I think drafting an RB this high is less than ideal, but Harris does offer a skillset and potential that Miami lacks. He would also add onto the weapons that should help Tua develop into a franchise-caliber player. Harris can pound the ball between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield, using his athleticism in space. He’s a three-down back and featured ballcarrier that Miami could rely on to take pressure off the passing attack, or at least force the defense to respect the option. Harris is a real possibility at #18, but Miami could conceivably wait a little longer and grab a running back in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, perhaps one of UNC’s threats: Javonte Williams or Michael Carter. That might be a better use of their resources.
- Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma – Truth be told, this is not a great draft for teams needing a sure-fire center prospect. There’s not even much consensus on who the best center is coming out in 2021. I think Humphrey should carry that card given his production, and one of the best abilities is “availability.” Landon Dickerson is a candidate, but I think his injury history is troubling enough to keep him out of the first round, absent the high-stakes gambler. There’s also an under-the-radar guy like Quinn Meinerz, with limited pedigree, that may sneak into the late-first or second round on the back of a good senior bowl and athletic testing. The position is thin. Still, Humphrey is smart as a whip and didn’t allow a sack for the last two seasons. His athletic testing is truly elite (nearly a perfect 10). For Miami, that might be ideal, and we’re talking one of the best offenses in CFB. Is 18 too high? I don’t think they can get him at 36.
- Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa – Zaven Collins rose from relative obscurity to win the Bednarik and Nagurski awards last season. He’s got great size for an outside backer. He wasn’t a true stack in Tulsa’s 3-3-5 defense, and Tulsa basically threw him all over the field, giving him plenty of different assignments. Sometimes he would line up as an edge rusher in a variation of a five-tech DE. He would also flip at times, playing the WILL or SAM, or even lining up as a MIKE in the B-gaps. I think there’s some versatility here that would fit well in Flores’ defense, which requires their guys to man multiple roles. He’s also a decent matchup threat against opposing tight ends with his size and speed combination. He dropped into zone coverage often and held his own. Another name that would fit here is Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia. Azeez is the better pass rusher of the two, and I’d like to see Collins be more physical, but the potential is there to groom with a plus schematic fit.
- Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue – After the top three wide receivers that maintain their ranking with relative consistency, the 4th best WR in this class is less certain, as the next tier of remaining candidates offer slightly different things. At or near the top of this tier I would put Moore. Yes, there are serious reasons to be concerned, chiefly his stature and injury history, but I think Moore is the only guy left that can put the fear of god into defenses. He’s got blistering game-breaking potential. In a draft that carries enough risk as it is, why not go big or go home on one of nine picks? Moore gives Tua a serious weapon, legit speed and quickness, that can’t be matched among the remaining prospects. If not, Kadarius Toney is another fine option, and perhaps a little less risky. Both guys can offer versatility in the return game but managing injury risk is a relevant concern.
- Jalen Mayfield, T, Michigan – The most obvious choice to include in this list would be Penei Sewell, but I don’t think he’s a realistic choice for Miami at #18, perhaps not even at 6th overall. Sewell also isn’t a can’t miss prospect and comes with risks: shorter arms, technique questions, and a year off. That said, he’s a 90th percentile athlete (as rated since 1987) and perhaps the only tackle in the class that you’d throw in at left tackle on Day 1. In the alternative, Miami might consider other tackles at 18, including Mayfield. He’s a guy that has the ceiling to play a swing role, which works for a team like Miami that isn’t totally set on either side and had to deal with injuries. Maybe they can wait and nab him at 36, but if history is any indication, he’ll likely be gone by then. There’s also the question of whether Miami spends this kind of capital after using a Top-20 pick on Austin Jackson last year. Unlikely. Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins are other options.
I didn’t strongly consider all these options at 18, but I think they are possible fits for the Dolphins. Personal preference, of course, but I’d rather keep to the top of my board when making any selection. To select almost all these alternatives, I’d have to reach further down my draft board and abandon the “BPA” philosophy, altogether, and there’s always a blanket caution against reaching for need.
I believe Miami can fill a bunch of these roles with their other two Top-50 picks. It’s possible one of these players (or their facsimiles) are available at 36. If not, Miami has a bunch of picks to use as ammunition if they decide to jump up ahead of another team that has comparable needs.
In my mind, with the premium price on edge rushing talent in the NFL, and the rather slim pickings in this year’s class, at least for pure speed rushers, the Dolphins might do better to hit that position of need and importance over other positions that can be a bit more fungible.
Another question that’s worth addressing is: why not Gregory Rousseau or Jaelan Phillips? And to be sure, either might be a fine alternative to Paye, but I’ve personally discounted both of those players for various reasons. While Rousseau offers better size than Paye and fits better as a traditional five-technique 3-4 defensive end, Rousseau opted out last year and didn’t test nearly well as Paye. He has some stiffness and poor agility scores that will knock his grade a tad. He also comes as a bit of a project.
Phillips, meanwhile, has a scary injury history that might pull him from some boards altogether. He medically retired from football while playing at UCLA, before deciding to transfer to Miami. I have him ranked as my #2 edge player in this draft, and he oozes a fun potential, but there are serious red flags that must be overcome for a team to trust drafting him with a premium pick.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE EAGLES
As part of my usual analysis, I do like to discuss the possible draft implications for the Eagles. The primary questions are: (1) do the Eagles and the Dolphins covet any of the same players, and (2) is there any possibility of the two teams wheeling and dealing with each other, or countering each other, during the draft?
Tangential to the first question, we also must look at similarities between the teams in terms of scheme and construction. The Eagles are, of course, coming into 2021 with a brand-new coaching staff and a bunch of new philosophies. The GM is still the same, but let’s not get into that here.
On offense, the Eagles really won’t look drastically different. Sirianni loves 12 personnel and the screen game, bringing similar concepts to those that Pederson employed. We can hope he finds better ways to execute them, but of course not all the previous issues were Pederson’s fault. The biggest change might be time-to-throw, in that the Colts were generally quick to get the ball out, while the Eagles were content running a lot more verticality. Those plays took more time to develop and forced the QB into some bad situations, especially with a makeshift offensive line.
On defense is where we’ll see the biggest changes. Schwartz was well known for his man-coverage, island defense. New coordinator Jonathan Gannon ran what was essentially the polar opposite, a zone-heavy scheme. We’re talking 5th-highest rate of man versus 5th-lowest rate. Gannon had a slightly evolved defense, however, employing “pattern match” concepts that are hybrid man and zone, mostly in Cover 3. The traditional Tampa 2, with a dropping and roaming middle linebacker, is less prevalent, but some of those alterations could be attributed to personnel. It might take some time for the Eagles to get the right talent to run this defense effectively, so it could look ugly for the time being, but I think the end results will be worth it.
Compared to Miami, of course, there really aren’t a ton of similarities, especially defensively. Both teams run different base concepts, 3-4 versus 4-3. Miami uses a lot of different looks and blitzes extensively. Miami was 2nd in blitz rate in 2020 (40.8%), while Indianapolis was 31st (17.1%, even below the Eagles). There’s a wide variance in the skillsets each team will look for during the draft.
Going back to the offense, the differences do remain relatively stark. It seems the Dolphins will employ co-coordinators and continue using multiple college-like concepts in their offense, including the RPOs, tempo, and motion. In many ways their offense will mirror the defense by being variable and flexible.
However, just because the teams don’t share a lot of philosophical values doesn’t mean they can’t have similar roster needs. Both teams are in absolute need of expanding their playmaking arsenal, particularly at the wideout position. The Eagles are thin at WR coming into 2021, an unfortunate pattern that seems to repeat itself. We’re not even sure what to expect out of Jalen Reagor going forward. Sadly, he couldn’t individually solve the Eagles’ flanker woes. Miami, meanwhile, got some potential help in free agency with Will Fuller, but he’s had injury problems, and the Dolphins are young behind Parker. As young as the Eagles.
Along the offensive line, both teams require a long-term option at center. Jason Kelce is coming back, but he can’t play forever. Skura is a one-year stop-gap for Miami. Both teams also have questions at tackle. For the Eagles it is on the left side, with one of Mailata or Dillard having to earn the job. Miami’s young tackles played for the majority of last year, but the bigger question mark is on the right side with Hunt, and whether the team feels comfortable leaving him there or deciding to move him inside.
The Eagles might want another running back, as well, but Miami really needs one. Miles Sanders is the guy in Philly right now, whereas the Dolphins have lots of bodies but only a theoretical number one in Gaskin.
Flipping sides of the ball, the Eagles are well set along the defensive line, although anxieties remain long-term whether Barnett gets an extension, or maybe Sweat earns one, instead. The Eagles are probably going to grab at least one edge rusher in this draft, while Miami absolutely will.
The Eagles are much less certain elsewhere on defense. They have poor linebacker depth right now, and perhaps even worse secondary concerns. They couldn’t afford to make many moves during free agency, leaving the draft as their option to fill those remaining holes. Miami, however, has a lot of bodies at both levels. Maybe they lack some quality at LB and S, but anyone they draft will have to compete for a role and doesn’t necessarily have a clear path.
In summation, the most obvious overlaps are at WR and C on offense, and then an edge rusher (or two) on defense. They might want slightly different scheme fits, but generally speaking, players at these positions could go to either team. One example might be Creed Humphrey at center.
As for the second primary question, what are the odds these two teams trade with each other in this draft? Well, they’ve already made one trade within this context. Miami took Philadelphia’s sixth spot in the draft and gave up a future first-rounder in the process. That appears to signal Miami wants someone specific, while Philadelphia was happy to move back and get more chances to win, perhaps because their process hasn’t led to reliable results.
In the past few years, while Grier and Roseman were the GMs of their respective teams, they’ve made the following draft-day trades:
- In 2017 – 5th round pick (164) and 6th round pick (194) to Dolphins for 166 & 184.
- In 2020 – 5th round pick (164) to Dolphins for 173 & 227.
That’s the list. I should mention, however, that one of the biggest trades the teams made was shortly after Grier was promoted to GM, and it was one of the pieces that led to the Carson Wentz acquisition. In 2016, the Dolphins traded #8 overall to Philly for Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and the 13th overall choice. This wasn’t long after Roseman regained his position, as well, following the firing of Chip Kelly.
The teams aren’t strangers to dealing with one another. It might help that they aren’t strong competitors during the season, and the odds of the teams seeing each other in the playoffs (only the Super Bowl) are quite low.
This year, Miami picks right before Philly early in the 2nd round (36 and 37). That could make for an interesting dynamic depending on who the teams select in the first round. They are close together in the 3rd (81 and 84), 5th (150 and 156), and 7th rounds (231 and 234), as well. Because they are often so close together, I would think that somewhat reduces the odds they are trade partners, and I don’t know if either team will have a strong pull to jump the other.
The Eagles don’t have the luxury of moving up in the draft much, anyway. They need their picks to rebuild and restock the multiple roster holes they have. Recent less than stellar drafting has meant further expenditure here. Maybe they move a player, instead, but thus far, it seems like Howie is more interested in the 2022 draft, and I think any major moves would be to add draft assets there.
Miami had a lot of picks last year and holds another nine in 2021. With all the young talent they have, they might not feel a strong need to use all nine, either moving up in 2021 or deferring some until 2022. Based on history, I wouldn’t expect the Eagles to trade a 5th rounder to move back again, as they already have three 6s and two 7s. Note that the Eagles also do not have pick 164 this time around.
No matter what happens, the 2021 draft is sure to be one of the most unusual drafts of our time, and we might see more surprises than usual with less group-think on the market. Unfortunately, if you loved the draft last year, it looks like the virtual process was a one-and-done, not unsurprisingly. We’re back to the extravaganza. Either way, enjoy it, and let’s hope for a healthy and successful 2021 season this fall.
Do you approve of this pick?
This poll is closed
2021 BGN Mock Draft Order
1) Jaguars (Phoenix X Minimus): QB Trevor Lawrence
2) Jets (eagles.north.of.the.border): QB Zach Wilson
3) 49ers (I Need a Username): QB Trey Lance
4) Falcons (chewy wellington): OT Penei Sewell
5) Bengals (Dr_Horrible): WR Ja’Marr Chase
6) Dolphins (20Safety_Hazard): TE Kyle Pitts
7) Lions (drc242): WR DeVonta Smith
8) Panthers (wildcatlh): QB Justin Fields
9) Broncos (ItownBallers22): CB Patrick Surtain II
10) Cowboys (Kephas): OT Rashawn Slater
11) Giants (Billmington): WR Jaylen Waddle
12) Eagles (ablesser88): CB Jaycee Horn
13) Chargers (Georgia_eagle): LB Micah Parsons
14) Vikings (Philliesandthebees): OT Alijah Vera-Tucker
15) Patriots (SakPrescott): QB Mac Jones
16) Cardinals (Carson Wentzs ACL): CB Greg Newsome II
17) Raiders (dshelton5): LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
18) Dolphins (J. Wil): DE Kwity Paye
19) Football Team (Negadelphia Norm):
20) Bears (Happy24):
21) Colts (Fly Like An Eagle):
22) Titans (Friendly Neighborhood Philly Fan):
23) Jets (Asap Stocky):
24) Steelers (Gregnado):
25) Jaguars (“Snax”):
26) Browns (gerouxman1956):
27) Ravens (Brendanekstrom):
28) Saints (grantspectations):
29) Packers (Philly_Philly):
30) Bills (doublefry):
31) Chiefs (Leo Bedio):
32) Buccaneers (phuckdallas):
Now it’s time for you to vote for who YOU think should be selected in the 2021 BGN Community Consensus Mock Draft.
Who should the Miami Dolphins draft at No. 18?
This poll is closed
DE Kwity Paye
DE Jaelan Phillips
DE Gregory Rousseau
DE Azeez Ojulari
OT Christian Darrisaw
WR Rondale Moore
RB Najee Harris
LB Zaven Collins
1) Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence
2) Jets: QB Zach Wilson:
3) 49ers: QB Justin Fields
4) Falcons: OT Penei Sewell
5) Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase
6) Dolphins: TE Kyle Pitts
7) Lions: WR DeVonta Smith
8) Panthers: OT Rashawn Slater
9) Broncos: QB Trey Lance
10) Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II
11) Giants: LB Micah Parsons
12) Eagles: WR Jaylen Waddle
13) Chargers: CB Jaycee Horn
14) Vikings: OT Alijah Vera-Tucker
15) Patriots: QB Mac Jones
16) Cardinals: CB Caleb Farley
17) Raiders: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah