April 12, 2022

Is Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux Worth a Top-5 Pick in the 2022 NFL Draft?

If you want clear-cut answers going into the 2022 NFL Draft, then this year's class is not the one for you.

A month out from the offseason's biggest event, you won't find much agreement on the identity of the top overall prospect, the top quarterback, or even the best wide receiver on the board. Subjectivity is a defining feature of scouting and draft analysis, but the apparent lack of clarity at the top of the draft is somewhat reflective of a class where there is more depth in the middle rounds than there are standouts among the Day 1 prospects.

A consensus may be emerging around the status of Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, though.

Once viewed as a potential No. 1 pick in the draft, Thibodeaux appears in danger of slipping out of the top five. Indeed, Thibodeaux is 10th on Daniel Jeremiah's latest top 50 list and sixth on Mel Kiper's big board, while DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under for his draft position set at 5.5, with the over clearly favored at -175 odds.

Though big boards reflect an analyst's opinion rather than a prediction of where a prospect will be picked, there seems to be momentum behind the idea of Thibodeaux falling out of the top five.

That begs the question, is he worth a top-five pick?

Running With The Bull(Rush)

If the argument solely concerned athleticism, the answer would be an emphatic yes. Thibodeaux is a phenomenal athlete and proved as much with his performance in the 40-yard dash, blazing down the track in 4.58s at 254 pounds, producing a 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds.

The 40-yard time put him in the 93rd percentile for defensive ends while his 10-yard time was in the 87th, per Mock Draftable. The short-area burst he displayed on that run jumps off the screen when watching Thibodeaux on tape.

He wins consistently with his get-off, demonstrating excellent reaction speed off the snap to immediately threaten the edge, often forcing opposing offensive tackles to open their hips and leave themselves vulnerable to inside moves or the bull rush.

The bull rush is another area where Thibodeaux excels, using his long arms to explode into the pads of blockers and drive them backward and showcasing his ability to transform speed to power.

We see an example of Thibodeaux's power on this play against UCLA, on which Thibodeaux exploits a mismatch with Bruins tight end Greg Dulcich. Thibodeaux shows off the force in his hands by jolting Dulcich backward before disengaging his left arm and dragging the tight end with him as he surges towards the quarterback and knocks the ball free with a forceful hit.

One criticism of Thibodeaux, however, is that he is too reliant on his raw explosiveness and has yet to develop a full array of counterpunches to help him win his rush when he cannot do so on pure power alone.

An Incomplete Arsenal 

While Thibodeaux is still developing his repertoire of pass-rush moves, he does already possess an intriguing arsenal, of which the two-hand swipe, rip move, and swim are already a part. Here, in the same game against UCLA, Thibodeaux forces an incompletion by creating pressure with a swim move on the right tackle.

The rip is perhaps the move Thibodeaux relies on the most, using it when rushing off the edge and when deployed on the interior of the defensive line, his versatility allowing him to serve as a destructive force as both an outside pass rusher and as a 3-technique defensive tackle.

Working in a straight line from the interior may be the clearest path to the quarterback but, despite doubts about his ability to bend, Thibodeaux has consistently proven he can turn the corner and flatten to the quarterback.

He does so here against UCLA, dipping under the tackle's right arm and closing quickly to the quarterback to finish the play with another significant collision.

As a pass rusher, Thibodeaux checks almost every box and possesses exciting room for growth that can be quickly harnessed if he lands with a coach who can expediently develop his menu of moves.

Production And Potential

Questions about his competitiveness were raised when Thibodeaux opted to skip his positional drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Yet, any such concerns do not marry up with the film, which shows a defender with an extremely high motor committed to pursuit when guarding against passing plays and the ground game. Thibodeaux's dominance versus tight ends in the run game seeing him record 35.5 tackles for loss to go with 19 sacks in his three seasons with the Ducks.

That is production far superior to the prospect who appears to be jumping Thibodeaux in the pecking order, Georgia's Travon Walker, who possesses comparable athleticism but managed only 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in three years with the Bulldogs.

Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson may be a more well-rounded and pro-ready prospect who is slightly more refined as a pass rusher, but the higher ceiling lies with Thibodeaux.

He is a defender who has not come close to realizing his full potential but has still found ways to affect the quarterback and produce at an excellent level in the Power Five.

His collegiate track record, athletic ability, and pass rush skill set, combined with the proficiency he has displayed against the run and even in occasionally dropping into coverage and manning up against running backs, stacks up to make Thibodeaux's a resume of an obvious top-five pick in a draft light on quarterback talent.

There is always at least one head-scratching fall on draft night, and it could very well involve Thibodeaux if he is left waiting to hear his name called later than many anticipated just a few months ago.

Photo: Getty Images