The New York Giants haven’t just found their next Michael Strahan. As high as betting the All-American of the former Oregon Ducks on a stratosphere threshold, in Kayvon Thibodeaux they might have found a player better than the gap-toothed Hall of Famer. And maybe Thibodeaux will be the host Good morning America at least in two decades when his playing days are over.
There is no guarantees in the NFL draft. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick (Trevor Lawrence) didn’t live up to his bill as the “best quarterback in a decade” after a season with Jacksonville. Heck, the Giants know a thing or two about draft potential that doesn’t pay off. What is the quarterback situation after Eli Manning in East Rutherford? Show me a Giants fan who wants to ride with Daniel Jones for the next few years and I’ll show you a bald liar.
Anyway, back to the reason for this story, Thibodeaux is going to be a smash hit.
We’re more than a week away from the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and with each passing day, I’m more convinced that the top four teams, particularly the top two Jaguars and Lions, will regret passing it on to Thibodeaux in favor the other defensive ends Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson. The three were strongly bonded due to college success and playing the same position before the draft. Whether it’s picking someone from the reigning national champions or a local (Hutcinson was visiting Michigan in Ann Arbor, not too far from Detroit), seeing these three as comparable is weird.
At full health, Thibodeaux’s ability to beat pass blockers is far better than Hutchinson and Walker. Does he draw a double team? No problem. Wearing green in Eugene most of the time and doing his Bruce Banner impersonation, Hulking is a way through offensive lines to beat quarterbacks. When teams signed too many players to stop Thibodeaux, someone else celebrated for Oregon. Thibodeaux’s ability was a big reason the Ducks were one of the few Pac-12 teams to get a touch of college football playoffs in recent years.
And his first step from the line of scrimmage is faster than the two defenders drafted in front of him. He’s also more physical, sometimes overpowering 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackles at will rather than just using finesse. Hutchinson might have doubled Thibodeaux Sack totally out of 2021, but it’s a one-season jump. Hutchinson has not maintained this success over time. Thibodeaux is the only one of the three who has it.
Had Thibodeaux not sprained his ankle in Oregon’s first game of the 2021 season and sat out the next two contests, this would not be a conversation. Thibodeaux with at least eight quarters more action against Fresno State, Ohio State and Stony Brook at FCS levels would have put him well over the top and would be the clear pick of the draft. For me he was anyway. And seven days after driving to NFC East, I’m puzzled as to why Jacksonville and Detroit didn’t see things the same way.
Maybe Thibodeaux needed that one big hit that garnered millions of hits on social media to propel him to the top? Someone like Jadeveon Clowney had for South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. That “Hit Heard All Over the World” where a Wolverine running back’s helmet flew away from the savagery. Clowney was the No. 1 draft pick a year later, and Walker became only the second defenseman to be picked first after Myles Garrett in 2017.
Comparing Walker, Thibodeaux and Hutchinson, the statistics only go so far. Five Georgia defenders went into the first round and 10 were selected overall. How do we know how one of them will behave on the next level without the influence of the others? That’s one tackler less than an entire defense leaving the SEC to pursue professional endeavors. Hutchinson had also selected another Wolverine defender in the first round. Not Thibodeaux.
Thibodeaux has been open about his legacy being more than just on the grate. He plans to open a charter school and launch his own cryptocurrency later this year. In preliminary interviews, he expressed a desire to be a role model in the community he was drafted into, and there’s no bigger market than New York City. That leaves doubts as to whether Thibodeaux is solely focused on football.
Are those questions there for LeBron James, who won a championship with the Lakers after starting More than an athlete TV series in 2019 or when He opened a school in his hometown of Akron? no Thibodeaux should be applauded, not demoted.
The Texans and Jets catered to greater needs, dropping the Ducks’ juggernaut into the Giants’ lap. And he will be a monster in the easiest league in football to win. New York can still finish fourth in the NFC East this season. How will they score? Great question. How will the Giants prevent teams from increasing the score on them? It’s a difficult task. Thibodeaux is someone you can tangibly point to as a difference maker. These prospects don’t come every day. Cheers to the 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.