2022 NFL Draft

Top draft prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux responds to criticism about his passion for the game at NFL Scouting Combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux spent a good chunk of his Friday press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine responding to criticism that he doesn't play with enough fire on the football field.

There's never been a question about Thibodeaux's talent, but the former Ducks star dismissed the talk in recent weeks that he doesn't show the same passion for the game as other top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, citing sacrifices he's made along the way and the challenges he faced growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

"I don't think I necessarily had to convince teams of it, but that's the media narrative, right? There always has to be some narrative that's drawn," he said. "For me, I'm an L.A. kid. If you know the adversity I went through to get here and the things that I had to sacrifice and the things that 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, you can't even really explain it. I get emotional even thinking about it. All the sacrifices it took me to get here, I wouldn't have made all those sacrifices if I didn't love the game. I'm blessed to be here and I'm just happy that these teams want to get to know me."

Thibodeaux is rated as the No. 7 prospect in the draft by NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah after posting 19 sacks in three seasons at Oregon, including nine as a true freshman. He missed two contests this past season due to injury, but he still averaged more than one tackle for loss per game, despite playing at less than 100 percent for much of the year.

He's met with the Giants, Jets and Texans, who each hold a pick inside the draft's top five selections, this week in Indianapolis, and he said his main goal in those settings is to show he's a student of the game. Despite the critiques that have come his way in recent weeks, it appears those squads encountered a confident player.

"Well, you know, like you say, I tell the coaches that, you know, there's nothing he can tell me that I don't already know," he said. "That's because I'm honest with myself and I watch the tape. If you're a student of the game, you know what you can get better at."

As for the areas in which Thibodeaux would like to improve, he mentioned working on additional pass-rush counters to utilize if he gets stalemated on a play. How he'll respond if those stalemates lead to a prolonged streak without a sack -- and the criticism that will surely come with it -- is one topic the Giants wanted to discuss when they met with the star edge rusher in Indy, per Thibodeaux.

"(The Giants were) just giving me a hard time," he said. "Like, when you bring up what's going to happen if I'm not the star coming in. Five games in, if I don't have a sack, we talked about, you know the media is going to be down on me, everybody's going to (have) me in the doghouse. ... I let them know I've been in the media since I was a sophomore in high school. I've been trained for this my whole life. I know most of it is entertainment, right? So, I'm not really worried, because whatever happens between the four walls of the organization, is what's going to dictate the future. If I have five bad games, we're going to focus on that next week or how we're going to dominate the team that's next."

The potential top-10 pick will next have a chance to dominate on Saturday night, when defensive linemen and linebackers are scheduled to work out at the combine. Thibodeaux said on Friday that he intends to be a full participant on the big stage, where he'll be competing against, among others, Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who is Jeremiah's top-rated prospect.

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