There are questions being asked about Kayvon Thibodeaux’s motor and his passion for football as the 2022 NFL Draft approaches. The New York Giants, with the fifth and seventh overall picks in Round 1, cared enough to give Thibodeaux “a hard time” during an interview with him this week at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
Thibodeaux didn’t flinch. He seemed to relish it, in fact.
“We had a great interview. They were kinda on me. They were giving me a hard time, but I feel like it was that big brother moment where they give you a hard time because they’re interested in you and they like you,” Thibodeaux said. “I grew up in a big city, so a big city is nothing new to me.”
What did he mean by “hard time?”
“Like when you bring up what’s gonna happen if I’m not the star. Five games in if I don’t have a sack, this is one thing we talked about. The media’s gonna be down on me, I’m gonna be in the doghouse, how am I gonna hold that? I let ‘em know I’ve been in the media since I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve been trained for this my whole life, and I know that most of it is entertainment, right. I’m not really worried because between the four walls of the team and the organization is what’s going to dictate the future. If I have five bad games we’re gonna focus on that next week on how we’re going to dominate the team that’s next.”
Kayvon Thibodeaux on the Giants giving him a "hard time" in his interview last night.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) March 4, 2022
Thibodeaux, the talented Oregon edge defender, could undoubtedly wind up being the Giants’ pick at No. 5. When he stepped to the podium at the Combine on Friday morning, he did so with yours truly believing it is pretty much a no-brainer for the Giants to select him at No. 5 if he is available and offensive tackles Evan Neal and Ickey Ekwonu are off the board.
He did nothing to dissuade me from that belief.
He was confident, passionate about showing his passion for football, intelligent and well-spoken. That shouldn’t be a surprise for someone who had a 3.8 high school GPA, wants to be a broadcast journalist when his playing days are done, plays chess, already has a deal with Nike for non-fungible token (NFT) artwork and launched his own cryptocurrency.
“I think the biggest thing I want to articulate to teams is that I’m really a student of the game. I really love this game. This (football) is something that has done a lot for me. Football has taught me a lot, it’s helped me grow a lot through my life, and it’ll be there until the day I die,” Thibodeaux said. “So, for me, just letting teams know that this is the main thing and I’m always gonna keep the main thing the main thing. No matter what else I do off the field, football is my main focus and winning a Super Bowl, getting a yellow jacket, being Defensive Rookie of the Year, it’s all my goals.”
At one time Thibodeaux was considered the likely No. 1 overall pick. There have been questions raised about whether football was his priority after comments he made about wanting to be associated with a brand like Nike more than wanting to be “known as a national championship winner” at Alabama, and also noted the “stigmatism of an Alabama education,” adding, “It ain’t the West Coast. It ain’t Harvard.”
Thibodeaux was asked if he has to convince teams he loves football.
“I don’t think I need to convince teams of it, but that’s the media narrative,” Thibodeaux said. “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.”
Thibodeaux has tried to shrug off the criticism.
“I feel like everyone has a job. For me, I feel like, when you have a smart kid like me, you have a lot of positives, someone has to find the negatives. I don’t really look too much into it,” he said. “I know what I can do for a team. And when we’re breaking down film, I’m able to talk about the ins and outs of the game. I’m not really too worried about what people have to say as far as that, as long as the teams and I can come to an understanding of who I am and how hard [I play] and the love I have for the game.”
Thibodeaux had 19.0 sacks in three seasons with Oregon. Despite that production, he gets that there are people who believe he takes plays off or should have even better stats.
“Well, you know, I’d tell the coach there’s nothing he can tell me that I don’t already know, and that’s because I’m honest with myself and I watch the tape,” Thibodeaux said. “If you’re a student of the game, you know what you could get better at, and for me, I feel like sometimes I get stalemated, sometimes I can’t have a second or third move, I can’t continue my pass rush and really finish through. I feel like there were a couple sacks that were left out there because I got stuck on blocks, so just getting off blocks and creating that extra move to finish through.”
Von Miller is the NFL pass rusher Thibodeaux admires most.
“When you realize that you’re not — I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the strongest guy and I’m not the fastest guy, so when you realize that, just like Von Miller, you have to figure out what’s gonna give you that edge and for me my mind is what gives me that edge,” Thibodeaux said. “I’m a chess player, so I’m thinking moves ahead — how can I set the game and dictate what the offensive tackle does so I can get what I want out of the situation.”
Thibodeaux explained that chess and football have strategic similarities.
“Chess is life and chess is football. You talk about your first move, and your first move is gonna set up your second move, and then you’ve got to think about your third move ahead,” he said “Pass rush, I’m gonna hit you with speed, I’m always gonna hit you with speed. And that’s gonna set up my power moves, and then my power moves are gonna set up my counter. It’s a heavyweight match, like a boxer. You’ve been hitting him with a jab, jab, you want to come with a hook, change it up. Just having that longevity and realizing that, when the fourth quarter comes, you’ve gotta put it all together.”
Will he be trying to do that for the Giants in the fall?