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Film study: Kayvon Thibodeaux brings impressive skillset to Giants

Let’s go to the film and see what the No. 5 overall pick is all about

Oregon v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The New York Giants selected Oregon edge Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The last edge chosen by the Giants in the first round was Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010.

The 21-year-old Oregon EDGE rusher seemed to be a consensus top selection heading into the college football season. He rolled his ankle in Week 1 against Fresno State and reportedly played hobbled after missing two games. Despite the early-season injury, Thibodeaux posted 49 tackles, 12 for a loss, 47 pressures, nine sacks, and two forced fumbles. Here are his measurements and athletic testing from the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine:

Thibodeaux had a 17.5 percent pass-rush win rate - the average in college football is a 9.8 percent win rate. Offenses were wary of Thibodeaux’s presence, which often led to a lot of protection shifted in his direction:

Here’s six-man protection in 2021 against UCLA with possible day two pick Sean Rhyan (74) as one of the blockers. Still, Thibodeaux commands three blockers’ attention. We see how he initially engages Rhyan - a 6’4, 321-pound four-star player - and puts him on skates before getting chipped by the running back and knocked down by the guard. He had to overcome the attention in 2021 and still posted elite numbers while working through an ankle injury.

(Kayvon Thibodeaux is No. 5)

Power rush

Thibodeaux is not a pure power-rusher, but he can convert his unique first step into power and keep tackles guessing. He engages a lot of tackles with a double-punch on the breastplate, low center of gravity, type of bull-rush that sets up secondary moves well:

Thibodeaux is to the right of the screen. He explodes off the line and catches the tackle’s outside arm while landing his own inside arm on the mid-line of the tackle. He does a good job exploding low to high and uncoiling his hips through contact to maximize force while driving his feet on contact. His speed, used in conjunction with his power, allows him to press the outside shoulder and win the half-man relationship. He crashed into the pocket and disrupted the rhythm of the play.

Here is the same 2020 game against USC; Thibodeaux explodes out of his wide stance and sees an opportunity to use power to take advantage of a tackle with high pad-level. Thbidoeaux keeps his feet churning with low hips, and he floors the tackle while forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away.

Put a tight end over Thibodeaux at your peril. UCLA puts Greg Dulcich (85). The Oregon Duck explodes through the outside shoulder of the tight end and creates separation with speed and power to set up the sack, strip-fumble.

First step

Thibodeaux has power-based elements to his game, but his best trait could be his first step. Thibodeaux packs a heavy punch and often engages offensive tackles with a two-hand punch combined with a low center of gravity to win the leverage battle and establish a position of power to shed blocks quickly. We saw this in the previous section, but his 1.59 10-yard-split (87th percentile) at 254 pounds is also evident on the tape:

Thibodeaux is dangerous when he pins his ears back and can rush the passer. On this specific play, he hits the tackle with a quick stutter and a fake long-arm move to get the tackle to unleash a double-punch, effectively stopping his feet and uncoiling his hips prematurely. Thibodeaux times his inside-shoulder dip to evade the punch and gain access upfield and around the tackle’s outside shoulder. This pass-rush move is called a ghost technique; he shows enough bend through contact at the top of the arc to finish strongly and earn a sack.

Thibodeaux’s speed and burst force the USC tackle to open his hips before his second step. Thibodeaux is aligned wide in a three-point stance, and he closes width into the outside shoulder of the tackle with power, exploding low to high while using his outer arm to swat the tackle’s outside arm downward. That subtle move forces the tackle to sink himself and attempt to reestablish his hands on the breastplate of the Oregon pass-rusher, but Thibodeaux is too quick to handle. Thibodeaux sank his inside shoulder and effectively turned the corner to sack the USC quarterback.

In 2020 against Alijah Vera-Tucker (75), Thibodeaux bursts out of his stance with a quick first three steps that he translates into a rip move. Vera-Tucker attempts to initially jump-set Thibodeaux, but the pass rusher’s speed cut the angle of the Jets’ eventual first-round pick off. Thibodeaux bends through the poorly timed and placed contact and sacks the USC quarterback.

Again against Vera-Tucker, Thibodeaux easily beats the offensive lineman at the snap with his suddenness. Thibodeaux does a great job reducing the surface area of his chest by dipping that inside shoulder to unleash his rip move. Vera-Tucker had to hold, which flushed the quarterback out of the pocket.

Thibodeaux’s first step stresses the tackle’s set out of a three-point stance. With a simple inside shoulder dip, Thibodeaux was able to corner into the pocket, which led to an Oregon sack.

Thibodeaux can use that speed to enhance his hand usage while pass-rushing. The young pass rusher has a ton of upside and some room to develop a more consistent ability to get to his second pass-rush move, but moves like this are encouraging.

Thibodeaux took a direct path towards the mid-line of the offensive tackle; this prevented the tackle from gaining depth and expanding to mirror. The pass-rusher then uses a club move on the tackle’s outside arm, which forces the tackle forward and gives Thibodeaux the ability to get to his rip move at the top of the pass-rushing arc. The timing of contact with the club and the first-step set up the entire move.

Rhyan does a good job meeting Thibodeaux up the pass-rushing arc. However, Thibodeaux is one of the better high-side rushers in the draft; despite not possessing the bend of an Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) or Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma) - Thibodeaux is a much more complete player than these two. Thibodeaux keeps his inside hand open and grabs cloth to pull Rhyan’s inside arm downward, setting up his dip/rip combination to win the outside shoulder. Thibodeaux gets pressure and forces an overthrow.

The threat of going inside

Thibodeaux’s speed give offensive tackles fits, especially at a wider angle. Thibodeaux takes advantage of the tackle over-setting and obliges on the two-way go to easily pressure the quarterback and force an overthrow.

Thibodeaux sets up this inside move that works in conjunction with the twist so well. He flashes the stutter step and explodes off his outside foot to pick the guard and also take out the tackle’s inside shoulder, allowing his teammate to loop around. Thibodeaux positions himself so well to split the double team once the tackle transitions to the looper. Thibodeaux doesn’t lose a step and hits the quarterback as he releases the football.

Thibodeaux slants inside from an initial stance slightly off the shoulder of Vera-Tucker at tackle. He engages the guard and bull-rushes him into the pocket, forcing the quarterback to evade the pocket; Thibodeaux comes off his engagement with the guard and puts further pressure on the quarterback. Looks like solid effort to me.

The tackle attempts to quick set Thibodeaux but oversets, and the play is essentially over for the offense. The guard attempts to mask the tackle’s mistake but fails, and Thibodeaux annihilates the quarterback by shooting through the B-Gap.

The threat of inside pass-rush moves keeps offensive tackles honest, allowing Thibodeaux’s outside speed to win more efficiently. This play shows that Thibodeaux really thinks and attempts to apply his pass-rush plan. He won with speed against this tackle all game, so he attempts to stress the tackle’s outside shoulder and flash an inside spin move; this forces the tackle to redistribute his weight inside to account for the counter, but it was all a ruse and Thibodeaux comes to balance and continues outside. This move showed excellent body control, processing, and an understanding of how to set up pass-rush moves.

Run defense

Thibodeaux is on the backside of this run play, but he sets the edge so well, shows the ability to keep his chest clean with a low hat, the pop on contact, and the ability to evade the block after disengagement. He’s held as he closes in from the backside, but Thibodeaux is a fundamentally sound, powerful, edge setter with a low center of gravity and the ability to lock bigger players out.

Thibodeaux shows exceptional power and shedding ability against Washington State in this play; he attacks inside and realizes he’s not going to win with upfield burst against this rushing play, so he sinks his weight and plants his inside foot to explode through the ground and assist the tackle’s momentum inside, effectively shedding the block. Also, the finishing ability is elite and showed great athletic ability.

Thibodeaux is the play-side contain defender who is double-teamed from a unique formation with THREE players aligned behind the “tight end,” who is actually Rhyan; the new Giant splits the double team and makes the tackle to the boundary.

Thibodeaux does such a great job expanding his path outside of Abraham Lucas (72) and setting the edge to force the running back inside; this is a smart play from Thibodeaux, who had to read run/pass and then position himself to contain the edge if it was run. He sets the edge, closes the B-gap with good timing, and makes the tackle. Thibodeaux can, at times, get too aggressive, closing the B-Gap and losing contain, but that didn’t happen here.

Thibodeaux executes a solid “wrong-arm” technique against a power/gap concept; he stays tight to the tackle as he blocks down on the 1-technique. Thibodeaux is aware of the pulling lineman and braces himself by attacking with his outside shoulder, which creates traffic and forces the running back to bounce outside to secondary contain unblocked defenders.

Washington State made the mistake of leaving Thibodeaux as the unblocked defender on this play - not a smart idea. He follows the rule of block down/step down and keeps his path tight to the tackle; he locates the pulling offensive lineman from the backside and takes his knees out with his inside shoulder while getting his outside arm on the running back, and earning a tackle for a loss.

Here Thibodeaux is again leveraging his quickness to punish offenses who attempt to remove him from the play by scheming him as the “read” defender. He gets close enough to the mesh point to allow the quarterback to tuck and run, but Thibodeaux’s change of direction, agility, and reactionary quickness are too fast for the quarterback to overcome.

Unfortunately, Greg Dulcich (85) was tasked to kick-out Thibodeaux on split-flow action, and the Oregon pass-rusher made him regret it.


Lack of elite bend

I think “concern” might be a bit strong, but it’s safe to say Thibodeaux isn’t the bendiest of EDGE rushers. He showed the ability to flatten in some situations, but there were also plays where Thibodeaux lost balance at the top of the arc and couldn't effectively corner and get his hips towards the pocket.

Thibodeaux loses his balance on this play up the arc; he can’t get those feet flat and withstand the tackle’s pressure.

Thibodeaux wins with his suddenness and positions himself advantageously while winning the half-man relationship. As he attempts to bend and flatten, he can’t land his plant foot through the push of the tackle and he falls.

This play is a little different than the previous two; he attempts to turn a very tight corner against Lucas. Thibodeaux does a great job sinking and getting low. He lands the rip move and attempts to corner the tight angle, but he can’t bend at the ankle. I don’t think the lack of “bend” is egregious with Thibodeaux - he has bent through contact and effectively cornered in the past. However, it’s not an elite part of his game, and that has to be acknowledged.

Run discipline

This is very nitpicky - Kayvon Thibodeaux is an excellent run defender. However, Thibodeaux would lose contain at times at shade towards the B-gap, giving the running back an opportunity to bounce outside into space.

To the left of the screen, Thibodeaux engages the tackle and has his inside arm chopped downward which limits the separation between the two players. Thibodeaux is the contain defender to the field and he allows the running back to bounce outside. The run was designed to hit the three-hole between the tackle and the guard. Thibodeaux sets the EDGE well but doesn’t contain.

The previous GIF wasn’t a big issue on tape for Thibodeaux, and neither is this one, but this one did appear more often. It’s a product of Thibodeaux trying to make a play for his defense. Thibodeaux sets the edge well but works back inside to restrict the four-hole between the guard and tackle. This would eliminate the running back’s path and possibly force a tackle for a loss. The running back adjusted and bounced outside and around Thibodeaux. Again, this isn’t a huge issue by any means, just something to note.

Final thoughts

The Giants added a physical edge defender who explodes off the football with the ability to convert speed to power. He can win around the edge with quickness, inside with well-timed counter moves, or through offensive lineman with power and leg drive. It’s obvious that he thinks about his pass-rush plan, but there is still room for improvement in terms of consistently getting to his secondary move.

He flashes an array of moves in his pass-rushing repertoire, and he’s a physical run defender who locks tackles out with low hips while setting a firm edge. Thibodeaux is also athletic enough to drop into shallow zones, flip his hips, and cover. His presence will allow Martindale to use deception because he can execute many assignments, but Thibodeaux will ideally be rushing the passer and wreaking havoc on the Giants’ opponents.

I never saw Thibodeaux take plays off; honestly, it was contrary. There were many instances where he had an impact from the backside in pursuit with many hustle and high-effort plays. I don’t have the film access that other draft pundits possess, but a player who battles through an ankle injury in an effort to win his team a PAC-12 Championship, despite having first-overall buzz if he rested on his laurels says something about his football character.

Thibodeaux will be the face of a new defensive identity under Martindale, and he has the personality to thrive under the bright lights of New York City.