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NFL draft: Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux isn't the top-five lock some might assume

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INDIANAPOLIS — Kayvon Thibodeaux isn’t tiptoeing his way into the 2022 NFL scouting combine, and no one is shocked by that.

The highly self-confident edge rusher from Oregon can handle the attention, he said, crediting his experience as fifth grade class president and having been “in the media since I was a sophomore in high school” as the reasons why.

“I've been trained for this my whole life,” Thibodeaux said Friday during his media session.

Behind the scene, NFL teams have already conducted several meetings — formal and informal — with Thibodeaux, and he’s not hiding his big personality from them.

Yahoo Sports spoke to two teams picking relatively high in the draft to find out how one of the best prospects in the 2022 NFL draft class has acquitted himself so far. Thibodeaux has yet to work out, which no doubt will help his stock; he’s considered a terrific athletic specimen and a big reason why he’s often been mocked to go in the draft’s first five picks, even occasionally at No. 1 overall.

But is Thibodeaux guaranteed to crack the top five? Neither team was certain of that.

“He’s got an answer for everything,” one team official noted, “which is both a good and a bad thing.”

A senior-level evaluator from the second team noted: “He might not go as high as some of the mocks have him now.”

On the surface, Thibodeaux’s 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks impress. So does his rare athleticism and impressive frame — unofficially around 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds prior to his combine measurables being made public.

Yet Thibodeaux’s interview process could hold an outsized weight in his ultimate landing spot. This is not a player who carries what many would consider traditional character flaws stemming from off-field issues. The concerns mainly lie with his effort on the field and whether his big personality will be a perfect fit with every locker room.

It appears that some of Thibodeaux’s focus has been on himself in the team interviews.

“We get these kids for 20 minutes or whatever, maybe closer to 18 once you get through the handshakes and all that,” one team official said, “and I think he mentioned his ‘brand’ at least three times. He became the NIL king this year, and I think some of that will carry over.”

Added the second team, “He was putting on a show. He’s a charismatic kid. He talks a lot. You’re just trying to figure out where football is on the importance scale for him. I think it’s high, pretty high, but you just want to see if it’s No. 1 or lower on the list.”

Thibodeaux mentioned he’d be willing to play anywhere in the NFL — “from Jacksonville to Detroit to both New Yorks to Texas (Houston).” Those just happen to be the five teams picking atop the draft: the Jaguars, Lions, Texans, Jets and Giants.

But it’s entirely possible he still could be on the board after those five teams are picked. Carolina at No. 6 doesn’t feel like a fit. The Giants also pick seventh. Would the Falcons at No. 8 pass on Thibodeaux? That’s a team to watch. Maybe also the Broncos at No. 9. It’s hard to imagine him somehow slipping past either the Vikings or Commanders at 12 and 13, respectively.

And the top five isn’t out of the question — especially in what’s considered a weaker class in terms of high-end talent in the top 10 or 15 selections. But Thibodeaux might want to expand his “anywhere” list just a bit in case.

Kayvon Thibodeaux said the Giants gave him a hard time in his interview

Thibodeaux told a story Friday about his combine interview with the New York Giants, owners of the Nos. 5 and 7 picks overall. He said the Giants “were giving me a hard time” and trying to figure out what might happen to Thibodeaux if he doesn’t experience immediate success.

“I feel like it was like that big brother moment where they give you a hard time because they really, they're interested in you and they like you,” he said. “Just giving me a hard time, you know … what's gonna happen if I'm not the star, you know, coming in five games in, if I don’t have a sack. This is one of the things we talked about. You know, the media is going to be down on me, you know, I’m gonna be in the doghouse. You know, how am I gonna hold that in?”

That’s when Thibodeaux reminded everyone that he’s been facing the media for years and is built to handle that negative attention — and that at the end of the day, it’s all just theater anyway.

“I know that most of it is entertainment, right?” he said. “So I'm not really worried because whatever happens between the four walls of the team in the organization, that is what's going to dictate the future. And if I have five bad games, we're going to focus on that next week and how we're going to, you know, dominate the team.”

Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux speaks to reporters during the 2022 NFL scouting combine. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux speaks to reporters during the 2022 NFL scouting combine. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Later, Thibodeaux compared himself to Jadeveon Clowney — a surprising self-comp that opened a few media eyes.

“You look back to Jadeveon Clowney,” Thibodeaux said. “I mean, he's a guy who was great, but he didn't have all the skills and the tools as far as you know, pass-rush skills and things like that. I mean, I feel like I'm, I'm kind of a build off of him. I'm like Jadeveon 2.0.”

It’s a line he used behind closed doors, too.

“I thought, ‘Is that the best guy you can come up with?’” the second team said, after Thibodeaux mentioned Clowney in their team’s interview as well. “It just made me laugh in my head. Clowney’s fine. I just don’t know if he knows all that (Clowney) came with. Better said: Ask a Texans fan how they feel about a guy they could draft (comparing himself) to Clowney.”

Thibodeaux: ‘There’s nothing (a coach) could tell me that I don’t already know’

One of the more interesting lines from Thibodeaux to the media on Friday came when he was asked about what areas he wanted to improve in his game.

Thibodeaux eventually mentioned how he wants to get off blocks better and draw fewer stalemates in his rushes. He’s a student of the game, Thibodeaux explained, and works hard to identify areas where he came up short and can avoid that and improve for next time.

That’s the good stuff. But being a student of the game, Thibodeaux said, means that he already knows what a coach will tell him ahead of time.

“I tell the coach that, you know, there's nothing he could tell me that I don't already know,” he said. “Right? And it's not because … I'm honest with myself and I watched the tape, right? So if you're a student of the game, you know what you can get better at.”

The team official who said “he’s got an answer for everything” also wondered: “What happens when he needs to be coached hard? We have some tough-minded defensive coaches. They’ll call out a lack of effort in front of the team. They’ll demand excellence. That’s the conversation you get down to with (Thibodeaux), not whether he’ll go out and get in trouble. Maybe he will, who knows? But I am more worried about the other thing.”

The knocks on Thibodeaux the football player is that he can take some reps off and also will be “contact-averse” at times, although both teams noted that some of his issues could be chalked up to the ankle injury he suffered early in the season and played in pain with after returning.

Yet NFL teams know what they’ve seen on tape, and some of their concerns have not been completely allayed when they’ve cross-checked with people at Oregon.

“(Oregon coaches) didn’t kill him, but they didn’t correct us either,” the second team said.

“I think he’s got a lot of passion, a lot of pride,” the first team noted. “I just wonder if it’s all channeled in the right places.”