Rookie Kwity Paye still seeking first sack, but Indianapolis Colts 'excited' about his versatility

Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye has yet to record a sack in his rookie season, but the team is happy with his progress thus far. Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire

INDIANPOLIS – The most important number at arguably the most important position on defense sits there with a giant zero for Indianapolis Colts rookie defensive end Kwity Paye.

Paye, the No. 21 pick in the 2021 draft, was brought to Indianapolis to help the Colts fill the void at defensive end left by the departures of Justin Houston and Denico Autry in the offeseason.

In seven games, Paye has a total of 16 tackles and ... no sacks.

For as much as general manager Chris Ballard has done in the draft at other positions, he’s struggled when it comes to pass-rushers, a position that he said takes time to get use to when they reach the NFL.

“The numbers may not be there, but I’m making other guys make plays, you know?’’ Paye said. “I think my time will come, and that’s just me being patient, me continuing to work. But I can’t get caught up in that.

"I’m past the point of saying that I’m a rookie, I’m still learning -- I’m a pro now, and I’m trying to produce for this team. For me, I just have to keep focusing on trying to improve every single week, and I think I’ve been doing that.’’

Paye is coming off the most impactful game of his young NFL career, as the Colts (4-5) beat the New York Jets 45-30 on national television in Week 9. He had two quarterback hits, one pass defensed, and the Colts had him listed with five quarterback pressures. It’s those types of stat lines that have the coaching staff optimistic that the sacks will start to come for Paye.

“He’s learning how to get to the edge and learning how to smart-rush the tackle, meaning that when he gets to the level (of the quarterback), he comes back, and when he beats him on the corner, he’s able to turn the corner,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “I think the progress of him is coming, and the pressures, the hits on the quarterback [against the Jets], were better. I think he’s on the upswing, and we know that rushers have a lot of rushes, and they don’t have a lot of sacks, but man, the pressures are the things that are also very, very important.”

Paye, a Day 1 starter for the Colts, faced challenges coming into his first NFL season. He finished his career at Michigan with a total of 11.5 sacks, but the expectation was he would be able to provide an impact on the edge, the same way DeForest Buckner does from the middle of the defensive line and Darius Leonard from the linebacker spot.

Paye spent the first part of the season playing extensively at right defensive end. But as the season has progressed, he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff to where they have started lining him up at both end spots. Having that versatility allows Eberflus to use Paye in different ways the rest of the season and in the future.

“We basically want to enhance the sides for each guy,” Eberflus said. “Some guys rush better from the right or left. He is a guy who has the ability to do both, which is good. You get a chance to move him around. He can also go inside as well. We’re excited about where he is in terms of having his flexibility going back and forth, right, left and inside.”

Another issue Paye is dealing with, as the Colts prepare to host the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), is that he is not fully healthy. He missed two games and almost an entire other one earlier this season due to a hamstring strain. Paye was honest in saying his hamstring still isn’t 100%. That’s not going to stop him from continuing to play, though.

“It’s still there, but my thing was, I was just tired of not playing,” Paye said. “I want to go out there and play with my guys. I’m not going to let anything hold me back the rest of the season.”