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Treash: Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux should be a top-three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft

Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, center, and Noah Sewell, right, play against Colorado Saturday Oct. 30, 2021. Eug 103121 Uo Cofb31

Kayvon Thibodeaux has been considered one of the nation’s top young football players since his days at Oaks Christian School in Thousand Oaks, California.

He was the No. 2-rated recruit in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports Composite, with offers from a wide range of college football bluebloods. Thibodeaux eventually chose Oregon over Alabama and others before proceeding to put together one of the best true freshman seasons by an edge defender in the PFF College era. In that 2019 season, Thibodeaux earned a 77.9 PFF grade that ranked second in the Pac-12. There was some marginal improvement in his 2020 mini-season impacted by COVID-19 (78.9 PFF grade in seven games) before he took a big step forward as a pass-rusher in 2021.

Thibodeaux was far from a refined pass-rusher in his first two college seasons. The 6-foot-5, 254-pound edge defender was winning with his rare physical tools. And while he may not be close to being polished in that regard yet, he still managed to produce at an elite level after only subtle refinements to his game.

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Thibodeaux at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine (among Edges historically)

Thibodeaux earned a 91.5 pass-rush grade in 2021 — the best in the Pac-12 and fourth-best among Power Five edge defenders. His 23.9% pass-rush win rate was the sixth-best mark in the Power Five, while his 92.1 pass-rush grade on true pass rushes was the third-best. In short, Thibodeaux was a game-wrecker. And despite that, he’s falling down some draft boards. Once thought as a lock to be a top-three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Thibodeaux is finding himself near the end of the top 10 in a multitude of mock drafts — behind two or three players at his position. 

Now, should he be the top-ranked edge defender and top overall prospect in the class? No, those honors are reserved for Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson after he broke PFF records in 2021. Thibodeaux, however, should be the consensus No. 2 edge defender and a top-three prospect overall in this class.

The reasons for his slide include concerns about his down-to-down effort and occasional disappearance during games. And while those are valid on the surface, the Oregon edge defender was dominant despite offenses game-planning around him. Opposing teams wanted to lessen Thibodeaux’s impact after seeing him wreak havoc during his first stretch of games.

Through Week 8 of the 2021 season, he was a top-three-graded pass-rusher nationally. Thibodeaux generated 23 pressures on 118 rushes and turned in three elite pass-rush grades above 90.0 in five outings (missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to an ankle injury) in that span. In response, his opponent for his sixth game in Week 9 — Colorado — made sure he couldn’t wreck their offense.

The Buffaloes' offense averaged 2.00 seconds to throw in that contest with Thibodeaux on the field. When he was off the field, Colorado averaged 3.75 seconds per throw. They schemed quick throws away from him and lessened his impact. Because Thibodeaux’s opportunities were few and far between, he finished with his lowest pass-rush grade for the season (59.8). It’s a game that those who claim “he disappears” may point to when, in reality, he didn’t get a chance.

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