It seems like Kayvon Thibodeaux has been a highly rated NFL draft prospect ever since he was in high school when he had 54 sacks in four years. He was the top-ranked player in the ESPN300 in his recruiting year. He had more accolades before he even enrolled at Oregon than just about any player ever. He was nearly a legend before he played his first college game.
When you see him you can understand why those who viewed him were so enthralled. He is built like a sleek Adonis, tall with a lean muscular upper and lower torso. He has a quick first step with the speed you covet from the edge. He rewarded that love with a great freshman season with 9 sacks and 14 TFL. He led the nation that year with 7 sacks coming in the 4th quarter of games. He made nearly every All Freshman team with good reason. He was dominant at times which continued into his sophomore year.
As a sophomore he started all 7 games and made 25 solo tackles with 10 TFL and 3 sacks. It was a little less dominant than his freshman campaign, but he was still awarded the Morris trophy as the PAC 12 best defensive lineman.
In 2021 Kayvon was injured in his first game. The ankle injury kept him out of the next two games which is a shame because one of those games was against Ohio State, and I was hoping to see him against some high level competition. Playing in 10 games this past year he had 7 sacks and 12 TFL having his best games against UCLA and Washington State. Overall he finished his Oregon career with 19 sacks and 36 TFL in 30 games.
Kayvon is an intriguing prospect to watch on tape, plus the whole Kayvon experience is interesting as well. When you watch an Oregon game the hype that is created about Kavon is easily noticeable. If Kayvon gets near a play the announcers almost come out of their seats in profuse exhortation. I understand the reason. He’s a great player, and they want viewers to stay tuned in. Yet they talk in generalities about his play and even overstate his abilities on the field.
In actuality Kayvon really hasn’t progressed much from when he was a freshman at Oregon. His game is reliant on quickness and speed. He can turn speed into power if he wants, but just doesn’t do it much. He still has great traits. His first step quickness is near elite, but he has some flaws he needs to correct.
When you look at the teams and players Kayvon played against it is not up to the same level as some other conferences. In fact of the Power 5 conferences I believe the PAC 12 has the least talent, and it has been that way for at least the past 5 years. This past year should show you that the SEC is far ahead of other conferences with the Big Ten second because of Michigan and Ohio State. Take those two teams out, and you have the PAC 12. The Big XII and the ACC are about equal in talent and they rotate between the 3rd and 4th spots depending on the year.
Kayvon himself has some great abilities, but when you watch the tape he will make a great play then disappoint you later in the same game. Never, even against PAC 12 teams, did he just dominate the game, even if announcers intimated that he did. Sometimes player will read their own press clippings then the working to get better decreases. Accolades, especially the type that Kayvon received are often a poison pill to many a young emerging career.
Like I have said many times I like Kayvon. I think he has great talent, but his game has stagnated some. He has developed some definite bad habits he needs to break. You will never hear any of the established sports media say that. They all read off the same script. To evaluate a player takes a person who has no personal interest in the player what so ever. I want every prospect to become a star, but that can never happen. What I strive for is an honest depiction of a player without any exhortation or malice.
It’s easy to fall in love with a player, especially a player like Kayvon. He is like a muscled up greyhound who is sleek and quick. He looks like he should dominate. Plus the Oregon uniforms enhanced that look. He just looks fast.
The thing to remember about Kayvon is he didn’t play as a true edge player at Oregon. He played their Joker position that moves him around to advantageous matchups he could exploit. There is nothing wrong with that. It was actually a smart move by the coaching staff to best use their most outstanding player. He played the majority of his edge snaps on the short side of the formation which allowed him to worry less about the run around the end.
It has been written that some other edge players didn’t play against the best competition, but Kayvon played against many players who will only get on an NFL field if they are the guy who mows the grass. The PAC 12 has the least talent of the Power 5 conferences ,and you will see some of the players are nowhere near NFL caliber.
I will show you some clips that show the good and the bad, not to demean but give a true depiction of the player. Many of Kayvon’s foibles are correctable with coaching if he will take the coaching then work on his game. I will stipulate right now that Kayvon has one of the quickest first steps of any player in this class. He adds to that by having a body that is very lean without wide shoulders. He isn’t a power player, but he uses that sleekness combined with the quickness to slither through gaps and make penetration.
This clip is from the first game of the 2021 season against Fresno State. Kayvon played about a half of this game because of an ankle injury that kept him out of the next two games. One of those games was Ohio State which would have been his greatest test by far. The only teams outside the PAC 12 he played against that you could consider upper echelon type teams were Auburn and Wisconsin (the first and last games of his freshman year). He combined for a total of 1 solo and 1 assisted tackle. Nine of his nineteen career sacks came as a freshman.
I don’t know the thought process that Kayvon used, but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he set that tackle up for this strip sack. Before this play Kayvon had repeatedly kept attacking the offensive tackle’s left shoulder to turn the corner of the arc but was rebuffed every time. Kayvon is lined up as a 7 or 8 tech wide of the tackle. So when the ball is snapped instead of that quick first step he stands almost straight up with a slight skip. When the tackle jumps outside to stop the rush, Kayvon smartly counters back inside/ The tackle doesn’t lay a fingernail on him, and despite the attempts of the left guard he breezes though for a game changing strip sack.
However you look at this it’s a heads up play to either set up the tackle or just read the play and take advantage of the player in front of him. Both are admirable traits that can work in the NFL. To use his head to devise a plan or read and react to each play will serve him well. This was one of those players (the left tackle) who will be lucky to become a practice squad player for an NFL team. It really doesn’t matter too much of the talent Kayvon played against. The only difference is did he take advantage of it. Here he did.
This next clip Kayvon is going up against Sean Rhyan who I have as a mid 4th round prospect who will probably become a guard in the NFL because he lacks the quickness to guard the edge against pro talents. These plays against UCLA are from Kayvon’s best statistical game of the 2021 season with 4.5 TFL (37.5% of his TFL on the season) and 2 sacks (which is 29% of his sacks on the season).
Now a lot of edge rushers will get stopped by their counterparts. That is not unusual. I show you this because Kayvon cannot beat Rhyan with his speed or quickness. He uses a strong chop to the left arm of the tackle to gain the edge, but it does nothing. That is the problem here. Once Kayvon’s first move is stopped he has no real counters. He doesn’t have a secondary move to beat his man. He can be coached on this, but it takes time to develop worthful counters because you need more than one. You need a host of different moves of the tackle you will face in the NFL. They will see your moves on tape and be wary of them. Solid left tackles are paid a lot of $ so they do their homework. They are not easily fooled or beaten. You can look at a Von Miller who has speed but also multiple counter moves. He also reads a tackle then devises a plan that he uses when he thinks will be most advantageous to make a game changing play.
This next play you will see that time and time again Kayvon eschews the edge responsibilities and motors around the edge like every play is a pass play. This isn’t a defensive plan because he has no contain help outside him. The inside linebackers come over as a result of he line slanting that way in a zone running scheme.
I call this type of self serving play as “glory seeking” when you look for big plays outside the scope of the defense. Not only does he allow the inside track for the runner he also has his head down when he rushes. He has no idea of what is happening because he doesn’t keep the tackle from his body by using his arms. ou can’t make a play if you can’t see it so all that talent goes to waste. This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens way too often. Kayvon (as usual) is on the short side of the field so maybe he thought the run would not come his way, but opposing teams watch tape and trends of players.
Jets personal history:
I was one of the only people who used to wish the Jets had traded Mark Gastineau back when he had the record 22 sacks in a season. The Jets could have gotten a mint for him and used it on players who were team players. I would watch as Gastineau would take his outside rush, and the opposing team would counter through the huge hole he left behind; sometimes three plays in a row. Man that drove me insane; maybe that’s why I look so harshly at edge players who don’t hold their place on running plays.
This play Kayvon is lined up to the wide side of the field against a QB who is a much better runner than he is a passer. The defense is in man coverage so there is no outside support. The edge is solely his responsibility. Kayvon is matched up against Alec Anderson who is a player with modest talents (He plays too high often.) as a redshirt junior.
At the snap Kayvon feigns an outside rush then immediately plows inside but collides with with his own tackle who is working on a stunt. This is freelancing, there is no way the defense was set up to work with the outside totally exposed or Kayvon making his cohorts stunt not work. The QB doesn’t get to his 2nd progression when he sees the outside completely clear and takes off. He makes an easy 8 yard gain because he couldn’t get a block from his tight end. What is worse is that #5 Kayvon Thibodeaux is the one who allowed the gapping hole but is barely jogging behind the play as the the QB is racing downfield. With his speed if somehow the QB were to get a block from his TE Kayvon could have run him down from behind. Yet he didn’t even try which is why some scouts have questioned his desire and love of the game. He should have been irate that he let the edge free, doing all he could he rectify the situation.
This next play shows the good and the bad of Keyvon while he makes a stop in the backfield. There are certain protocols you need to abide by as a defender or you let your team down.Here the QB and Kayvon both make blunders, but Kayvon’s elite athleticisms make the difference in the end.
This is a read option play where the QB has the choice of keeping the ball or allowing the RB to take the rock. When reading the play the QB needs to assess the defense and they had a OLB stationed outside the tackle slot without a tight end to cover. This should have been a clue to give the ball to the RB but the QB keeps it anyway.
The QB reads Kayvon as diving down on the run so he kept the ball. He didn’t take into account Kayvon’s elite athleticism and is easily dropped in the backfield. If he had bellied the play (take a step back then around Kayvon) he would have avoided the TFL from Kayvon but have been tackled by the OLB. It was a poor read all the way around. Kayvon was saved by his superior athleticism.
This next play is late in the half with less than 20 seconds before halftime. This should have been a fade pattern to the corner to the end zone, but this is Chip Kelly who is not the brightest of head coaches.
Oregon feigns an all out blitz but then pulls out of it. Again the wise play is the corner fade pass. Yet since the defense lined up across the line it left Kayvon all alone to be blocked by a mediocre tight end in Greg Dulcich who I have as a mid 5th round talent. Dulcich doesn’t have the ability to handle a talent like Kayvon. The result is a sack and a fumble that UCLA somehow recovers.
You could say that Kayvon made a sack against a weak tight end, or you could see Kayvon see his advantage then attack the player who is far less than his equal to make the sack. This sack is half on Kayvon who took advantage of a mismatch and half on Chip Kelly for a poor play call in this situation.
This next clip is again the same game and the enigma I see in Kayvon. You get a real nice play then a bonehead combined with a poor read with a lackadaisical response. This is again a read option with the entire line moving to their left.
Kayvon has outside coverage on his edge this time, but it is poor since the QB runs right around him. Kayvon just followed the tackle which took himself out of the play but what is worse is the response. As the play is still going on as Kayvon barely jogs behind the play in pursuit. If the QB were to avoid the tackle attempt he could cut back inside off the block of the WR and go for a TD. Kayvon could have stopped that if he had hustled but he didn’t.
This is what you don’t here about with Kayvon. You hear about the great stuff which is plentiful but the lack of desire and the glory seeking leaves you wanting more. You can see the talent, but after the initial snap do you see the fire to make a play? Does he play in the scheme of the defense? Remember this was his most prolific game of the season, but he had a sack against a TE and some athletic plays but he left more questions than answers.
His 2nd best game of the season was against Washington State which you would figure since they employ some of the widest offensive line splits in the country. Their left tackle Liam Ryan (graduate student) is an example of someone who will be lucky to make a practice squad. He is light without power. He exacerbates that by playing too high while blocking. He also has a slender lower torso which makes him top heavy with poor contact balance. He should be and was dominated.
This is one of the better plays I have witnessed Kayvon make in watching 5 games of film. Now the competitor is poor but it was nice to see Kayvon use some of his upper body strength (that he does have) to make a play. He used leverage on the play to help himself but this is a near stack and shed tackle. The getting off the block was nice and the quick explosion to the tackle was great. Another very nice play although against inferior competition in the PAC 12. Again it doesn’t really matter if you make the play and he did.
In the same game you have another instance of not holding the edge. Kayvon pushes out too high in respect to the line of scrimmage which allows the RB to slip through out into the flat and make a sizable gain.
In this defense the edge is Kayvon’s responsibility alone since he has a single player outside of him with coverage responsibilities. He needs to stay inside the tackle so he doesn’t push him out wide which is just what happens. He can’t allow the leakage from the edge in the NFL or he will be on the bench. We have already seen too many examples of his distain for covering his outside responsibilities.
I have read comments (unsubstantiated) about other edge players being handled by tight ends. Although in this instance Kayvon is totally blocked by a tall but thin tight end from the University of Washington.
The tight end is actually two inches taller than Kayvon but gets better leverage against him right away. This is an off tackle play run right through Kayvon’s gap, and he is nowhere near the tackle against a tight end blocking him. This is another problem with Kayvon that no one in the scouting community wants to discuss. That is a point of attack run where Kayvon is handled by a tight end, not George Kittle, just some average tight end from Washington.
This next clip is a pass rush where Kayvon excels the most at when he can get movement upfield. It helps when the receivers for the QB just stop short right next to a defender. The blitz from the secondary takes up another blocker but still gets penetrations.
With all the receivers covered and a blitz getting through the QB escapes the pocket into the arms of the blitzer and Kayvon. This is a sack that can be blamed on poor protection, receivers not working to get open, and the blitz that was not handled well by the offense. Still I like the move to spin back away from the blocker and into the QB. The tackle had no idea that the QB would step into the teeth of the blitz right behind him.
The next two clips are disturbing because they show a trend that I began to show earlier. It is one thing to be able to get into position to make a play, but it’s another to actually make the play. It is even more amplified at the goal line.
I showed numerous times in a previous article Jermaine Johnson II keeping his head up to make a play. It’s important, you have to see in order to tackle and Johnson does a great job.
This is a tale of two plays in one down by the goal line where the rubber hits the road. You either make a play or you don’t and technique is the way you make plays. Shortcuts or freelance are hit or miss. You have to make a play near the goal line or everything you do is worthless on the play. Okay here is clip 1..
This first look shows the 3rd and goal play with Washington using a simple toss sweep to the right. This is a rushing formation with an extra tight end in for blocking purposes. Kayvon is matched up with Mark Redman a 6’ 6” 250 lbs tight end who gets blown up by Kayvon on initial contact. This is the good part. Kayvon handles his blocker easily then is in perfect position to make a play.
Yet if you watch the closer view you can see exactly what is happening at the point of attack. It’s great to be able to defeat a block then be in position to make a play, but if you whiff on the play because of your poor technique it is a huge problem.
Here is a close up of the play at the goal line. Remember Kayvon did a great job of getting rid of his blocker now he is free to make the tackle before the player can score.
This is not a power back; this is Sean McGrew who is 5’ 7” and 180 lbs in a confined area so it’s not like you have to worry about him juking you out of your shoes. He also isn’t going to power his way into the end zone against a larger opponent. Yet watch as Kayvon (who is totally free of his blocker) completely whiff on a tackle at the goal line because he dropped his head Completely against the correct technique for tackling which is head up. eyes up and wrap up. He was there to make a play, but he whiffed because of poor technique. If you are a star player near the goal line you MUST make this play. The runner should have been planted at the 4 yard line bringing up 4th down. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t make the plays you are supposed to make then your talent is wasted. This is not an isolated incident, it’s a trend that must be corrected or this will be a huge problem against NFL ball carriers.
This next clip shows how Kayvon can work inside to force a bad throw. Of course in college every team had a package to work on the threat that was Kayvon. So when he can drop down against a guard he can bring superior pressure when he can split gaps.
Here he does just that with the penetration. He doesn’t get the sack but he forces the quick throw and the incompletion because of the pressure. Kayvon usually will move down inside when the team has an idea of a certain advantage they have. Kayvon uses a half man approach that is successful. He can pitchfork his way in. This is an excellent play.
There is no way to show the ability of Kayvon without showing the opposite. Here the great get off is enough to overwhelm a slower left tackle. You always have to be ready for the burst off the edge when Kayvon is around. This is his game, quickness and speed. He would be best used in a wide “9” type rushing stance since he is so speedy.
To show you exactly how fast that can happen I will show you in real time how much time the QB has on that last play so you get a sense. That is about two seconds for the QB to take the ball then find a receiver to make a pass; that’s not enough time.
Kayvon has some unique talents which cannot be taught as seen here. He has an explosion to the play, but he doesn’t bring his “A” game every play. Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network added sources within the Ducks program told him Thibodeaux “didn’t play hard all the time and gave up on plays too easily.” Also Matt Miller of ESPN reported several sources described the Oregon edge-rusher’s performance in interviews with interested teams as “poor,” which has created a scenario in which he may slide and “could even be selected outside the top 10.” The Giants GM Joe Schoen and the rest of the front office have concerns about Thibodeaux’s character. He said, “If it’s a guy that we don’t think fits from a character standpoint, we’ll just take him off the board.”
Kayvon’s speed to the QB is outstanding plus he can turn the edge (not with a 45 degree angle) but with a fairly athletic ability. He is a player who can dominate at times but later not so much. He is only 254 lbs with a thin build plus only average length so holding the edge is not going to be easy. He is not a powerful player his game relies on speed and quickness.
So how much draft capital is Kayvon Thibodeaux worth? Do you want to spend on a player who has some near elite talents but plays with some technical issues yet has the ability to make splash plays? The answer is yes because the rest can be taught by coaches. The question would be if the player is coachable. It is a huge question that must be answered. Effort and desire are an issue. NFL players don’t live on campus and are around coaches or teammates the entire day. They come and go as they please so desire is accentuated in the NFL. Practice sessions and meetings are regimented but the off times are not. Great players work on their technique constantly. They watch tape. They get tips from their more experienced peers. You can‘t come into the NFL with a sense of entitlement because you will be humbled over time.
When an NFL team looks at the talents of Kayvon they will draft him expecting the great Kayvon all the time; not the occasional great Kayvon with the technical and effort problems. He worried many NFL people when he said he would do all the drills at the Combine then when he was there just shut it down after the 40 and bench press. Great NFL players are not always the greatest athletes. Jerry Rice ran the 40 at 4.71 sec at the combine but became the greatest receiver because of desire. It was not average desire but maniacal desire to train, practice, and become so technically sound.
Does Kayvon have that type of desire? I don’t know. If you watch him on film he has the talent, but he isn’t as good as he should be against his competition. That competition will be much tougher in the NFL. His technique lapses are in need of a fix, and he will be required to work on them ad nauseum if he expects to get better. I have no idea if he will. Every prospect must develop in the NFL to be competitive. Kayvon is no exception.
Kayvon is a top 10 prospect without a doubt in this Draft cycle. He can be a generational type talent if he fixes his issues and ramps up his desire. The talking heads on the Draft never go into detail about Kayvon,. They talk in generalities. A team would have to have a great sense that he would work so Kayvon is not a slam dunk type prospect. There are not many of those; the last one I had was Quenton Nelson back in 2018. hate to trade up in the draft in the first two rounds, but for Quenton I would have.
Like I said earlier I like Kayvon as a prospect. I just made this article to show you what type of player he is. His development will be key. If he refines his game he could be special. His character is something you need to be sure of. Joe Douglas has preached character. Let’s see if he practices what he preaches.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?