Kayvon Thibodeaux’s former coach, Charles Collins, chuckles while labeling his Oaks Christian High School football standout as “unfair.”
It seems like, year after year, it’s becoming almost routine for an uber-talented pass rusher to sit towards the top of the incoming NFL draft class. Last year was an exception, but just look at the lengthy list of elite edge rusher prospects to enter the NFL in recent years — Joey Bosa, Myles Garrett, Bradley Chubb, Nick Bosa and most recently Chase Young have all enjoyed time at the top.
Next in line is Oregon Ducks defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, and if you haven’t yet heard of him, consider this a wake-up call.
The No. 1 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school, Thibodeaux committed to the University of Oregon back in December 2018 with huge expectations.
And boy, has he delivered.
Thibodeaux compiled 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons with the Ducks. (And remember, last year’s college football season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Los Angeles native stands at 6-foot-5, weighs 258 pounds and boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan. You couldn’t create a more ideal body type for an NFL edge rusher in a lab.
“It feels like I’m standing next to my bodyguard,” coach Charles Collins told Jets X-Factor with a chuckle.
Collins is the head varsity football coach at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, CA, where Thibodeaux played high school ball his junior and senior years.
“His length … It’s unfair if you think about it. Couple that with his athleticism and quick lateral foot speed, and you’ve got a pretty good football player.”
Pretty good, indeed.
The impact that a dominant pass rusher has on a team cannot be overstated. When a defender that long and quick can consistently put pressure on the opposing quarterback, the rest of the defense benefits as a result.
“It allows everyone else to gamble more,” Collins added. “When you know the quarterback isn’t going to have very much time, it allows the secondary guys to jump on routes and anticipate things.”
Having a player like Thibodeaux, who not only consistently gets after the passer, but who also brings a fire and competitiveness to the team he plays for, is, needless to say, invaluable for any football team. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but that sounds like just the kind of player Robert Saleh values defensively.
“He plays with a lot of energy and passion,” says Collins, recalling the impact the addition of Thibodeaux had on his football team. “When you get a guy on the team like that, you start to see them all play with that same passion. Before you knew it, they all were playing with that same edge, same intensity.”
That kind of passion for the game of football, particularly when it resides in a player with the physical gifts of Thibodeaux, can be harnessed as a dangerous weapon when the stakes are the highest. Thibodeaux, in two career Pac-12 Championship Games at Oregon, has recorded a combined 18 quarterback pressures, 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
When talking about Thibodeaux’s talent and NFL upside, Collins likens his game to a former dominant NFL pass rusher.
“He’s got that Julius Peppers type of ability. Peppers was a little taller, but KT has that same length and athleticism … I think he’s going to be one of those guys [in the NFL].”
Considering Peppers racked up 159.5 sacks over the course of his NFL career and is likely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that comparison isn’t too shabby for the 20-year-old Thibodeaux.
Kayvon Thibodeaux’s talent is not in question; he has already cemented himself as a top pick in 2022. The questions remaining deal with the non-football inquiries.
What kind of a person is he? Is he the kind of player coaches want to have in their locker room?
“He’s an incredibly selfless guy … the kind of guy who could be friends with any student on campus, regardless of his popularity,” says Collins. “Kayvon’s got jokes too. He’s got some comedian in him.” Collins laughs and then adds, “He thinks he can dance, but that he cannot.”
It’s also worth noting that Thibodeaux, or “KT,” as Collins affectionately calls him, was a 3.8 student at Oaks Christian, and according to Collins, takes academics very seriously.
Judging from what we know about the kinds of players Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh covet, Thibodeaux is undoubtedly on their radar. Saleh must be enticed by the thought of getting another Nick Bosa-type player.
Thibodeaux’s personality seemingly jives the New York market as well: an uber-talented, fiery competitor and leader who also has a great sense of humor.
In an ideal world, Gang Green has a great 2021 season and won’t be drafting early enough in the 2022 draft to claim the rights to Thibodeaux. But seeing as they currently sit at 0-2, it’s far from outside the realm of possibilities.
The addition of Thibodeaux, paired with the return of Carl Lawson, would give the Jets one of the best pass-rushing units in the entire NFL for a long time.