For much of the last two years, those who swim in the deepest waters of NFL Draft chatter have floated around the name Kayvon Thibodeaux at the very top. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the 2020 college football season, scouts, experts, draft specialists and more were throwing out the Oregon defensive end as a future No. 1 overall pick. He showed flashes of dominating a game from one side of the line like only generational edge rushers had prior. Thibodeaux was viewed as an anchor of not only the defense, but potentially a franchise.
Has that changed? Time will tell.
One thing is guaranteed: Thibodeaux will always bank on himself, and that’s what the Giants are banking on as well after drafting him fifth overall. When healthy, Thibodeaux was a wrecking ball, utilizing his long arms and speed (he ran a 4.58 at the NFL Combine) off the edge to punish offensive tackles and quarterbacks alike. Despite an ankle injury that hampered him in his last year at Oregon, he finished as a consensus All-American and Nagurski Award finalist, finishing with 50 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and seven sacks.
Long believed to be a high pick in the draft, chatter in draft circles around Thibodeaux in the months leading up to the draft began to change a bit. Some scouts and executives took anonymous shots at the former Oregon star, saying he is either too cocky or confident or too interested in personal branding, all of which might derail his focus and ceiling as a top-flight defensive end. While the criticisms are unwarranted for now — Thibodeaux just hoisted a new jersey for the first time tonight — fair or not, that will be part of his rookie year narrative going forward.
And it’s up to him to show that he is the player he believes he can be: a disruptor who is a three-down rusher off the edge who is persistent as he is talented.
Dane Brugler on Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 3 edge, No. 8 overall prospect in The Beast)
“The highest-ranked recruit in Oregon history, he helped the Ducks to three consecutive Pac-12 championship games (two wins) and led the team in tackles for loss
and sacks all three seasons, becoming the fourth unanimous All-American in school history as a junior. … Overall, Thibodeaux isn’t a fluid mover, and his impact runs hot-and-cold, but he understands how to create leverage as a pass rusher with his length, flexibility and hand strength. He draws comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney with NFL teams and has the talent to develop into a high-end starter if he stays committed.”
Top college highlight
The entire Oregon-UCLA game from 2021. Thibodeaux displays a litany of reasons why he was taken so high, starting with demolishing a tight end who draws the unfortunate assignment of trying to keep Thibodeaux out of the backfield. (He did not). Then in one of Chip Kelly’s funky running concepts, he reads the handoff perfectly despite losing some ground, and then recovers in time to make a physical stop at the line of scrimmage. Then on the money down on third-and-long, he zips by a UCLA right tackle and is in the backfield for another sack. When Thibodeaux is healthy and chugging along, he is a handful. Just watch the tape.
Kayvon Thibodeaux is a confident person. So much so that while he was on Fox Sports with Joel Klatt earlier this year, he laid out his own reasoning why so many West Coast prospects are going to the Big Ten or SEC. Klatt asks Thibodeaux why and, while calmly eating a chicken wing and wearing an Oregon baseball jersey, the Los Angeles native said because too many prospects don’t believe in themselves and choose name brand over self-belief.
“The thing about college football is, the only way to get a kid to want to come is to get a kid to submit. And for somebody to submit mentally and be given trust that whatever they thought they knew was wrong and you have the right answer. That’s what you have to convince a kid to think. All these college kids go to Alabama. Why? Because they think Alabama has the answer. They think Georgia has the answer. Whatever the schools show them, they think that’s the answer. When in reality, anything they’ve been doing to get them there has been the answer.”
Outside of his aspirations on the field, Thibodeaux has made a conscious effort to make a difference at the community level in his hometown of Los Angeles. He has launched The Jream Foundation, which focuses on empowering youth from economically disadvantaged areas to provide educational opportunities as well as help in pursuing alternative career opportunities.
(Top pic: Troy Wayrynen/USA Today)