NFL Teams Would Be Making a Mistake Letting Kayvon Thibodeaux Fall Out of Top 5

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2022

FILE - Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux gestures during an NCAA college football game against Washington, Nov. 6, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, file)
Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

During the predraft process, NFL decision-makers will talk themselves into liking a prospect or poke and prod enough to find major red flags. Though Kayvon Thibodeaux has the talent of a top-five pick, some clubs have questions about his intangibles.

The Oregon product didn't quell concerns about his motor at the NFL Scouting Combine when he withdrew from the position drills after running a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. The 6'4", 254-pound edge-rusher told NFL Network's Stacy Dales that he wanted to go through the defensive line and linebacker circuits in one day (h/t Chandler Vessels of on3.com).

"He just put his sweats on and is done for the day because he told me the [defensive] line is working right now, and he wants to do both [linebacker and defensive line drills]," Dales said. "He's going to wait for his pro day so he can do linebacker and defensive line drills. He wants to get it all wrapped up in one day." 

Thibodeaux showcased great athleticism at his pro day (h/t Kent Lee Platte of Pro Football Network), but he may have added to the questions about his effort in a decision not to work out with the defensive linemen at the combine.

Edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux
Edge-rusher Kayvon ThibodeauxMichael Hickey/Getty Images

During an interview on the Rich Eisen Show, ESPN's Todd McShay explained how Thibodeaux may have hurt his draft stock.

"A lot of personnel people scratching their head because we expected to see Thibodeaux work out, and then you just decide not to on really the biggest stage in the predraft process—the NFL Scouting Combine. And how do you pull that off in front of all the general managers and the decision-makers that are deciding your fate?

McShay has a point. Any time a prospect passes up on an opportunity to put his skills and athleticism on display, he gives up a chance to impress teams interested in him or adds fuel to criticism, which ties into questions about Thibodeaux's desire. 

In a recent mock draft, The Athletic's Bruce Feldman added quotes from unnamed college football coaches and experts as well as NFL sources—some of whom believe Thibodeaux has translatable pro traits but lacks focus and career drive.

One unnamed source thinks Thibodeaux can develop into a productive player if he keeps his mind in the game:

"He's got a good first step for a 250-pound guy. I'd worry about his interests off the field. In a weird way, he reminds me of [Josh] Rosen. I think they're both really good football players, and if they really concentrated on football, they'd be really good at it. But you listen to Thibodeaux talk and you wonder about his mindset."

Another source made a similar comment to Feldman about Thibodeaux's commitment to football.

"I don't see it, man," the anonymous source said. "He's good. He's not great. He was a non-factor in so many games. He's an independent contractor. His first step is unbelievable. You just wonder, how important is football to him?"

Unless either source coached Thibodeaux day in and day out, how could they measure his interest or commitment? Even with an extensive look through film, we should be careful about questioning a prospect's desire, which brings us back to the overall evaluation process.

Edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux
Edge-rusher Kayvon ThibodeauxCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Four of the top-five teams in the draft—the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Jets and New York Giants—have recently visited with Thibodeaux, per NFL Network's Tom Pellssero, perhaps to better understand the person and the player, 

Thibodeaux provided some insight into his interview with Big Blue (h/t Giants Wire):

"I mean, just giving me a hard time, like when you bring up what's gonna happen if I'm not the star coming in, five games in if I don't have a sack this is what they're going to be talking about. The media's gonna be down on me, everybody's gonna be—I'm gonna be in the doghouse, how am I gonna handle that."

Remember, Thibodeaux came out of Los Angeles as a the No. 2 recruit across the nation in 2019 and had a standout true freshman campaign, becoming the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year with 35 tackles, 14 for loss, nine sacks and four quarterback hurries.

In 2020, Thibodeaux won the Morris Trophy as the top lineman in the conference and earned MVP honors of the Pac-12 Championship Game. Despite battling an ankle injury through the 2021 campaign, he finished the term as a consensus All-American, recording 49 tackles, 12 for loss, seven sacks and eight quarterback hurries.

Based on his collegiate production and accolades, Thibodeaux didn't seem complacent after his early flashes of impressive play. He performed at a high level through three collegiate terms.

While Thibodeaux had a misstep at the combine and compared himself to Jadeveon Clowney, who, as McShay pointed out on the Rich Eisen Show, faced questions about his motor coming out of South Carolina, he's definitely worth a top-five pick in the draft. The 21-year-old needed better guidance through the predraft process, but that shouldn't drop him below the Giants at No. 5.

Edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux
Edge-rusher Kayvon ThibodeauxAndy Nelson/Associated Press

In his scouting analysis of Thibodeaux for Bleacher Report, Derrik Klassen saw a pro-ready pass-rusher who can develop into a complete, every-down edge-rusher and one of the NFL's best defenders.

"Though a pass-rusher first and foremost, Thibodeaux also has the right traits—speed, length and enough anchor—to contribute in the run game right away. He can rip through the backfield as well as stand up a blocker in his gap and set the edge. Thibodeaux even has added value on passing downs in that he can drop to play the flat area comfortably, which could add extra value for some teams.

It may take a year or two for Thibodeaux's technique and pass-rushing plan to catch up to his talent, but the fact that he has been as effective as he has to this point while only showing adequate hand usage is a testament to all the other tools he has. Thibodeaux can be a good player in any scheme right out of the gate and has the long-term potential to be an All-Pro."

A team with a top-five pick to pass on a prospect with Thibodeaux's upside would have to see clear signs of his disinterest in the game. Otherwise, clubs should gamble on his physical talent and productive track record.

The Lions, Texans, Jets and Giants all have a moderate- to high-level need at edge-rusher. Unless Thibodeaux left a poor impression during his recent visits, all four general managers should be willing to take a chance on him with their top selections.


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Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.