It was a surprise to some when the New York Giants selected Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Despite a litany of tape that absolutely showed his first-round talent, Thibodeaux had been shadowed by concerns in and around the league about his effort, about his ability to think about things other than football, and about the alleged limitations that would keep him from succeeding at the NFL level.
Thibodeaux had to deal with these questions at the scouting combine, and he answered them as best he could.
“I don’t think I need to convince NFL teams of it, but that’s the media narrative,” Thibodeaux said when asked if he had to convince NFL teams that he loved the game. “There always has to be some narrative that’s drawn. For me, I’m an LA kid, and if you know the adversity I went through to get here, and the things that I had to sacrifice, and the things my mother had to sacrifice for me to be here, you’d really understand how I feel in my heart. When you talk about fire, when you talk about passion, I think you can’t really explain it. I get emotional thinking about it, because all the sacrifices it took for me to get here, I wouldn’t have made those sacrifices if I didn’t love the game. I’m blessed to be here, and I’m just happy that these teams want to talk to me, and they want to get to know me. ”
On Friday, during his first rookie minicamp, Thibodeaux was asked about a story in which he thought about quitting football in the eighth grade.
“It wasn’t necessarily a quit,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was on the field and I quit. It was a conversation I had with my mom talking about I wanted to take a year off football and go play basketball. It was an idea for me because being a kid you see all these statistics and you see all of you guys creating narratives and creating frames on how hard it is to make it to the NFL. For me, I had doubt in my mind. And then I had to really dial back to my faith and realize that there’s going to be statistics with everything. It’s up to you to create your own legacy. ”
Now, it’s up to Thibodeaux to create that legacy, and hopefully, it’ll be all about that. The tape shows that Thibodeaux has everything on the ball you want in a pass-rusher.
Over his three seasons at Oregon, Thibodeaux had 115 total pressures… on just 812 pass-rushing snaps. He also allowed 10 receptions on 13 targets for 76 yards, 56 yards after the catch, two pass deflections, and an opponent passer rating of 90.5.
So, let’s talk about Thibodeaux’s alleged effort issues. This sack against Washington State has him starting off inside the left tackle, and riding all the way to the other side of the formation before closing to the quarterback. I’m reminded of Yannick Ngakoue, one of the better effort pressure ends of his era.
Thibodeaux’s positional versatility extends beyond his ability to move to either shoulder of a tackle – here, he’s off-ball until late in the pre-snap phase, then he lurks up to blitz, demolishes the right guard, and this play is over.
Plays like this show why and how he’ll be an ideal fit in Don Martindale’s defense, where defensive players blitz from just about everywhere.
“You’ve got to watch all of them,” Thibodeaux said, when asked if he was watching Martindale’s previous work as the Baltimore Ravens ’defensive coordinator. “You’ve got outside linebackers playing D tackle, you got D tackles playing outside linebacker, you got linebackers playing Mikes. People are interchangeable all over, but we are watching the Ravens defense. ”
Back to the effort thing, which was really a joke the whole time when you watch Thibodeaux’s tape. This play against Oregon State shows Thibodeaux mugging the play-side tight end to eliminate the quarterback’s quick read, which forces the quarterback to extend the play outside the pocket, a process that Thibodeaux then shuts down by moving off the tight end to the quarterback himself .
“The narrative, for sure, changed,” Thibodeaux said Friday about how people see him now. “If you notice, everybody thinks I’m a good guy now, and it’s all funny, which is hilarious to me because I’ve been the same guy this whole time. I’m happy I get to be here with my team. I don’t have to focus on anybody any more. Now I can really just hone in on what I love to do. ”
As far as leadership? Thibodeaux will do that as he does everything – on his own terms.
“I feel like you can lead, not in football, you can lead in any position in life. It’s about doing the right thing at all times. For me, as long as I’m leading myself down the right path, people are going to follow. As long as I’m going the right way, it’s going to be easy to have people go with me. So I’m not saying I’m going to step in and be a vocal leader, but I’ll make sure I do everything the right way, so when people see me, they know I’m the last one leaving, they know I’m the first one in. That’s how I do things. ”
Hopefully, as long as he gets things done on the field, that’s where the story can stay now.