NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2021. This is the third in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
I remember watching Kayvon Thibodeaux play during his high school days at Oaks Christian in Southern California. He was the top-ranked recruit in the country and, as you would expect, entered Oregon with a tremendous amount of hype in 2019. He's more than lived up to the expectations, though. He's been a dominant force since he stepped foot on campus, posting 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in 21 career games.
There is already a ton of buzz about him in NFL circles, and watching three of his game tapes in recent weeks gave me greater perspective on why he has a chance to be such a special player at the next level. Here's my scouting report:
Height, weight: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds (school measurements).
2020 statistics: 38 tackles (23 solo), 9.5 for loss (three sacks), three passes defensed in seven games.
Game tape watched: Stanford (Nov. 7, 2020), Washington State (Nov. 14, 2020), USC (Dec. 18, 2020).
What I liked: Thibodeaux is an explosive edge rusher, winning with a combination of speed, length and power. He has a dynamic get-off and can generate knock-back against offensive tackles without needing much runway or space. He also flashes a nifty up/under move to counter opponents when they jump out aggressively to take away his speed advantage. He's firm at the point of attack against the run and uses his speed/effort to make plays on the back side.
Where he needs to improve: Thibodeaux is already an incredible player and he hasn't yet developed an arsenal of hand moves. He's winning on pure athleticism and feel. Once he incorporates swipe moves, a consistent long-arm move or a spin move, he's going to be unblockable. He plays with excellent strength and power, but there is more room for growth on his frame. He's only going to get better, which must be a scary thought for teams that play against him.
Biggest takeaway: Thibodeaux is exactly the type of player who didn't exist in the 2021 draft class. The first edge rusher (Jaelan Phillips) didn't come off the board until the 18th selection. All of the players at the position in this most recent class had at least one issue or concern, be it on the field or off. Thibodeaux already has a two-year track record of dominance and he hasn't even scratched the surface of how good he can become.
He reminds me of: DeMarcus Ware. There isn't a perfect comparison for Thibodeaux, but I see a lot of similarities to Ware when I evaluated him coming out of Troy in 2005. They have the same long, wiry build and they both have an explosive first step. I would give Ware the edge as a pure bender at the top of his rush, while I see a little more power from Thibodeaux at the same point in their development. Ware had a Hall of Fame-caliber NFL career and Thibodeaux has the potential to become a similar player. Ware became a pass-rush student and constantly added to his game, improving along the way. That will be the challenge for Thibodeaux. If he puts in the work, the sky is the limit.
I can't wait to watch him play: at Ohio State on Sept. 11 and versus Washington State on Nov. 13. OK, I know I'm only supposed to pick one game, but I couldn't help myself. It'll be awesome to see how Thibodeaux performs on the big stage against the Buckeyes. They lost some good players along the interior of their offensive line, but they have talent and experience returning at tackle. Washington State has one of the top tackles in college football, Abraham Lucas. Last year, Thibodeaux and Lucas didn't line up against each other on every snap, but the Cougs OT more than held his own against the Ducks star. He was given help on a couple reps, but he limited Thibodeaux's impact as a rusher (no sacks, two QB hits). It'll be fun to watch them go at it again this fall!