There are a lot of unknowns heading towards the 2022 NFL Draft as the NFL Combine begins. And many of those unknowns start at the top of the draft board as it relates to Kayvon Thibodeaux’s draft stock.
This is a critical week for Thibodeaux, ranked by many — including yours truly — as the top player in this year’s event. Yet, for some inside scouting circles and war rooms around the league, some questions need to be answered as rumors intensify that he may not be a lock to be one of the first players taken off the board in next month’s NFL Draft.
Kayvon Thibodeaux’s Draft Stock: What do NFL teams think?
You can’t help but love the film on Thibodeaux — he’s explosive, athletic, and nasty. The junior from Oregon can make plays standing over tackle and out of a three-point stance. Thibodeaux is not only a terrific pass rusher, but he flattens off the edge and catches ball handlers in backside pursuit. He fits the narrative of “impact defensive player.”
So why, all of a sudden, have questions arisen about someone who is projected by many to be a top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft? It has nothing to do with athleticism or football ability, it’s questions around his motor and other concerns.
As noted in February by ESPN’s Todd McShay, there’s a belief that Thibodeaux “doesn’t play with the same fire as some other top prospects.”
This was confirmed to me by many affiliated with the Oregon football program, who said that Thibodeaux didn’t play hard all the time and gave up on plays too easily. That same criticism has been expressed here at the Combine by scouts.
And while I counter that criticism with the fact that Thibodeaux played this year despite suffering a high ankle sprain during the season’s first game — when he could’ve sat the rest of the year out — people connected with the Oregon program tell me Thibodeaux could’ve given more. NFL scouts and general managers here in Indianapolis for the Combine agree with that sentiment.
Will Kayvon Thibodeaux realize his full potential?
In addition to concerns about his effort, there are also questions from some inside the scouting community and in league circles about Thibodeaux’s desire to be great. As one source close to Thibodeaux told me, he’s “acting like he’s already made it rather than someone who really wants it.” Another source close to Thibodeaux said, “He has the ability to be great, yet he may never do what it takes to reach his ultimate level of ability.”
Because of these concerns, as well as other questions about Thibodeaux, teams are digging deeper into the situation to see if there’s more to the story. But one franchise selecting in the top 10 that needs a pass rusher and has plenty of draft capital is already telling people they would not touch Thibodeaux in the top half of Round 1.
Of course, that’s just one team of 32 that is being reported as stating that. There are 31 other teams, and all it takes is one team comfortable enough with a prospect to select them anywhere in the draft.
That said, there is a feeling from many I’ve spoken with who believe Thibodeaux tumbling out of the top 10 could be the best thing to happen to him. These people believe that it may be a wake-up call, and he could be shaken loose from the false belief bestowed upon him by those Thibodeaux surrounds himself with that he’s going to be a great NFL player regardless of what he does — or doesn’t do.
It’s easy to say these allegations are smokescreens put out by NFL teams, but much of the information is coming from members of Thibodeaux’s own camp, who see the red flags and are quite concerned. A request sent to Thibodeaux’s agent for comment on this story was not returned as of press time.
The NFL Combine presents a huge week for the talented prospect
One thing must be made completely clear: I’m not told, nor have I heard, that Thibodeaux is a bad person. People tell me Thibodeaux is “genuinely a good person, but has people around him who tell him what he wants to hear, rather than what he needs to hear.”
Some here at the NFL Combine are comparing Thibodeaux to Quinton Coples and Vernon Gholston, a pair of extraordinarily talented pass rushers who were both drafted by the New York Jets; a pair of talented pass rushers who never realized their full potential and didn’t make it to a second contract.
This is a huge week for Thibodeaux, and it’s not because of the 40, vertical jump, or bench press. The interview process here at the Combine is of utmost importance, as teams will pepper him with difficult questions in the hopes of peeling back the layers to get answers.
Appearing on Sportscenter in February, Thibodeaux had this to say about McShay’s report and his time at the Combine, “I feel like when you talk about fire, fire is kind of correlated to what someone has in the heart. And I don’t feel like anyone else can dictate what a person has in the heart. So I don’t really look into it. I know it’s entertainment, I know everybody has a job to do. But I do feel like the Combine is going to be a place where I can put all of the questions to rest. I’ll be able to answer them with my chin up and my chest down.
“So I’m excited for the journey and blessed for the opportunity. There’s not many people that get to play this game at the highest level. So I just thank God every day that I’m healthy and that he’s given me the wisdom and the clarity to come this far. We just gonna keep it going.”
As with any player in the NFL Draft, teams cannot afford to miss in either direction. They can’t afford to select him in the top half of Round 1 only for Thibodeaux never to meet expectations.
At the same time, if teams pass on Thibodeaux because of red flags and he develops into the dominant defensive force many believe he is capable of being — including me — that will come back to haunt them.