NFL News & Analysis

Kayvon Thibodeaux's Week 15 performance puts him on verge of stardom

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) celebrates a sack during overtime against the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The best player on the field on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 was Kayvon Thibodeaux. Whenever the Giants needed a big play, he was the one to make it. It was the high-upside showing that New York bet on when they selected him at No. 5 in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The rookie defensive end from Oregon missed time to begin the season with an injury, but it was only a matter of time before he started to break out. And on the national stage, Thibodeaux had the best game of his young career.

Thibodeaux finished the contest with an 89.7 grade as one of the highest-graded defensive players of the week. He added an 88.0 pass-rush grade despite recording only two pressures. But he was in on the game's biggest play, notching a sack, a forced fumble, a recovery and a touchdown. Here is that play via the NFL’s All-22 film: 

Only so many defensive ends in the NFL have the power to knock an offensive tackle backward and then swim around him to get to the quarterback. But what’s so impressive about this play was Thibodeaux's ability to quickly locate the fumble on the ground, get up and pick up the ball in the end zone. That seems routine, but doing so after recording a highly impressive sack is quite the feat. It's hard to do it much better than that. 

The good news is that Thibodeaux’s performance in Week 15 wasn’t an anomaly. He’s been making a ton of plays over the past month. Since Week 12, Thibodeaux has recorded 19 pressures, the eighth most in the NFL. More importantly, seven of those are quarterback hits, the second most in the league. He’s starting to become one of the most dominant and consistent rushers in the league despite missing plenty of time over the past few seasons.

Since his first year at Oregon until now, Thibodeaux has played just 2,142 defensive snaps in four seasons. He has less than 1,200 pass-rush snaps (1,157) at the college or pro level. During the 2022 season, he’s already played 628 snaps, which is the equivalent of 1.5 seasons at Oregon. So it's not surprising that he is rapidly improving with more snaps. 

But the limited snaps in college have made him a noticeably raw player despite his physical gifts. He can go quarters at a time without making a notable impact as a rusher, but his development across more snaps should be a terrifying thought for the rest of the NFC East offensive tackles.

What makes Thibodeaux special is that he’s starting to find ways to impact the game even when he’s not rushing the quarterback. One of the supposed “knocks” on his game coming into the draft was a lack of effort. That just hasn’t been the case so far in the NFL. Here is a perfect example of this from Week 15: He blows up the jet sweep and then rallies to make the tackle for no gain. 

This isn’t an isolated play, either. On one of the game’s final plays, the Giants had Thibodeaux dropping into coverage on a tight end. Not only did Thibodeaux do his job and not allow the tight end to get open, he quickly recognized that Taylor Heinicke was outside the pocket and making a run at the pylon. And of course, Thibodeaux was there to make the play that eventually would help the Giants win the game. 

Not including his Week 15 outing, Thibodeaux has five games this season with at least four pressures. How does he stack up with the other first-round edge defenders from this year’s draft class? Surprisingly well:

Thibodeaux doesn’t have the sack totals of Aidan Hutchinson, but he’s been a better pure pass rusher. Not only does he have a higher pass-rush grade, but he also has more quarterback hits and a higher pressure percentage. Plus, Thibodeaux has the advantage in pass-rush win rate and true pass set win rate by a significant margin. In fact, he leads the 2022 rookie class in pass-rush win rate and in true pass set win rate (min. 180 rushes). 

Despite being the third edge rusher drafted in 2022, Thibodeaux is producing like the top player in his class so far. Hutchinson may be more well-rounded at this (early) stage of his career, but he's also played a lot more this year and in college. Needless to say, both players are having fantastic starts to their careers and both the Lions and the Giants have to be thrilled with their production so far. 

Thibodeaux is exceeding expectations, reminding people across the league why he was considered a potential No. 1 pick for years at Oregon. He possesses all the physical tools to be a great player, and now that he is getting more opportunities to see the field, things are starting to come together for him rather quickly. It’s only a matter of time until Thibodeaux is one of the next great pass rushers in the league. He is on the verge of stardom in New York.


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