Once considered the likely No. 1 pick in April’s 2022 NFL draft, at least in the eyes of the media, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s stock has dropped in recent months.
On Friday at the NFL combine, Thibodeaux spent his interview session trying to dispel what he called “the media narrative,” insisting football always will take precedence over his business and lifestyle interests and saying he’s “not really too worried” about questions about his effort.
“The biggest thing that I kind of want to articulate with the teams is that I’m really a student of the game,” Thibodeaux told reporters. “I really love this game and this is something that has done a lot for me. Football has taught me a lot. It’s helped me grow a lot and through my life it’ll be there till the day I die.
“So for me, just letting teams know that this is the main thing and I’m always going to 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 is on my list of goals.”
Thibodeaux, who has been deliberate about building his brand in recent months, including launching his own cryptocurrency, is one of two pass rushers along with Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson believed to be in the mix for both the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and the Detroit Lions’ selection at No. 2.
The Lions have an intense need for pass rush help after finishing 27th in the NFL in sack rate last season and with top edge rusher Charles Harris scheduled to hit free agency in less than two weeks.
Thibodeaux, who led Oregon with seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season, is considered the higher-ceiling player and to have a more outsized personality. Hutchinson, coming off a 14-sack, 16.5-tackle-for-loss season, is safer, more consistent and more versatile.
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“I don’t think I need to convince teams (I love this game), but that’s the media narrative,” Thibodeaux said. “There always has to be some narrative that’s drawn. For me, I’m (a Los Angeles) 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.”
Thibodeaux said he has tried to emulate Pro Bowl Los Angeles Rams pass rusher Von Miller as a player, repeatedly watching YouTube highlights of Miller’s days with the Denver Broncos and trying to copy his moves.
An avid chess player, he said he plays a version of the game on the football field, too, trying to outthink opponents and stay ahead of them with his pass rush plan.
“I’m very aggressive (as a chess player),” Thibodeaux said. “You have to put people in pressure moments so you get what you want out of situations. For me, I’m putting my queen out there first and I’m making you make decisions. Because a lot of people make bad decisions when they’re under pressure, just like a quarterback.”
Thibodeaux acknowledged he left a handful of sacks on the field last season “because I got stuck on blocks,” but also noted when asked about his flaws, “there’s nothing (a coach) can tell me that I don’t already know, and that’s because I’m honest with myself and I watch the tape.”
How that comment is perceived by NFL evaluators may depend on how they viewed Thibodeaux in the first place. But Thibodeaux said Thursday he is excited to “play anywhere from Jacksonville to Detroit to New York to Texas” — locations of the teams with the first five picks in the draft.
“Not only can I pass rush, but I can set edges and I can also bang verticals and run with the best of them,” Thibodeaux said. “I feel like I’ll be a four-down player and really be a big impact to whatever team I go to.”