One of the most polarizing players of this draft class is set to hear his name called in Las Vegas, Nevada next week as the 2022 NFL Draft is just days away for Kayvon Thibodeaux. The preseason consensus No. 1 player of his class has taken a step back over the last eight months, with questions surrounding his pro-readiness and passion for the game having him fall behind at least one, if not more, players at his position.
While that drop from the number one pick to three or four will cost him a little bit of money on his first professional contract, it may be just what he needed in order to truly maximize his NFL potential and earn millions more beyond it.
After a strong meeting with New York management and coaching staff this past week, Thibodeaux stands out as one of the clearer draft options for the Jets with their No. 4 overall pick. He’s a top player of the class at a position the Jets lack true firepower at and fits their defensive scheme extremely well as the wide-nine position at the line of scrimmage. There were some concerns at one point over how his personality would mesh with the Jets regime, but after hearing how well things went at their official top-30 visit it feels like Thibodeaux should be a Jet if he’s available at pick four.
Thibodeaux’s potential is near sky-high, especially when you look at his athletic profile and what he has accomplished despite still being a very raw prospect. But where he ends up is extremely critical for how he gets to that point. Today, I want to look at some of the struggle areas for Thibodeaux and discuss just how this Jets coaching staff can make him one of the more effective edge rushers in today’s game.
Why the Jets Are Perfect For Kayvon Thibodeaux
Being Patient with His Three-Down Capability
One of the most discussed issues with Thibodeaux’s game is his slender frame and inability to win against offensive linemen with power. At 254 pounds, Thibodeaux is in the 25th percentile of edge rushers measured at the NFL combine. His lower body lacks density and stronger offensive linemen pinned him with ease the few times he faced them. Out of the gate, he probably can only add significant value rushing the quarterback until his frame is fully developed.
Why is this not an area of concern for the 2022 New York Jets? Because this is a defensive line that will rotate in and out until the cows come home. Last year John Franklin-Myers played the highest snap percentage among the defensive linemen and was still just on the field for just 60% of plays. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, one of the more talented players on the roster, was out there just over half the time.
This is a defensive philosophy that will leave you on the field to play your strengths and rotate someone else in to cover for your weaknesses. With this, Thibodeaux won’t need to be out there in early-down situations. Franklin-Myers can cover that wide-nine slot on first and second down before kicking in to the three-tech slot for passing downs, opening a spot for Thibodeaux to do what he does best — pin his ears back and get to the quarterback.
It’s not that Thibodeaux will only be a pass-rusher at the next level, but this approach will give him time to slowly build up his frame to the point where he can be an asset in the run game. When comparing to other situations at the top of this draft, Thibodeaux could be relied-on far too often — most notably in Detroit or Houston — making New York the perfect place to slowly roll out his three-down capabilities. in New York, a major market desperate for one on the gridiron. Given the importance of his position and the swagger he carries on and off the field, Jets fans will love wearing his jersey and cheering him on every Sunday. While you no longer need a big market to become a star, being a homegrown name for a massive fan base as they grow into a winning football team would be an unbelievable opportunity to market itself. If his production matches his confidence, there isnt a better place for Thibodeaux to become a household name.
Having the Right Guy(s) to Build Up His Pass-Rush Moves
Another aspect constantly noted is Thibodeaux’s lack of pass-rush moves, as he often relied on his athleticism to blow past linemen and really doesn’t have the technical aspect to his game established yet. If there’s one thing we know about this Jets defensive coaching staff, it’s their extensive work done developing young pass-rushers and building a full array of moves.
Both head coach Robert Saleh and current defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton were part of the 2016 Jaguars coaching staff that featured a terrific rookie campaign by future pro-bowler Yannick Ngakoue. Another undersized edge rushers, Ngakoue was a terror in that same wide-nine spot that Thibodeaux will be lined up in and led his team with eight sacks and added in 14 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.
One of Saleh’s biggest calling cards was his development of edge rushers during his stint with the 49ers. Nick Bosa’s debut, nine-sack season out of the wide-nine spot was largely credited to Saleh’s work with him leading up to the regular season. Bosa, much like Thibodeaux, struggled against larger college tackles and needed to develop his counters and handwork in order to make the next leap in the pros. While Bosa is the main attraction in San Francisco, he did tremendous work developing DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair and Sheldon Day.
Whitecotton’s next stop in Buffalo didn’t give him the opportunity to develop a young premiere edge rusher, as most of their starters had been around the league for a while, but when he reunited with Saleh in San Francisco they got right back to work. Their biggest success of the 2020 season was with defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, a player who had two starts in his first four seasons, as they turned him into an eight-sack man (a team best) with 18 quarterback hits in that same wide- nine spot.
Whether it be maximizing the potential of premiere talents or getting lower-level talents to really outperform their track record, this staff’s bread and butter is a developing young defensive lineman. Thibodeaux could be the next name added to that list when it’s all said and done a year from now.
Want To Be a Business, Man? Welcome to New York (at just the right time)
What I’ve seen continuously labeled as character concerns or an over-the-top arrogance seems more like an understanding of the opportunity currently in front of him. Thibodeaux talks about how he wants to be as successful off the field as on and wants to make the highest amount of money he possible can in the NFL. It’s almost like, and this is going to sound a little crazy, that he understands the business of being a high-level professional athlete.
The average life span of a professional football player is a cup of coffee, so why should we assume that any athlete isn’t trying to make the most possible money before injuries or age start to hinder their impact on the field. This past NFL offseason at least five transcendent talents decided to switch locations by way of trade to receive a brand new, massive contract extension. It’s just the way the NFL is now, so what’s the point in slandering a top talent for knowing that before his rookie season when some of the game’s best can handle being fantastic on the field while maximizing their finances off the field?
Now, for the more fun part of this conversation, let’s discuss how New York can help aid Thibodeaux in his quest to be big-time.
After a strong offseason it seems as though this Jets regime is finally headed in a positive, yet patient direction. After decades of underwhelming seasons, lackluster rosters and humiliating head coaches, the tide could be turning for a franchise that’s full of fans waiting to buy in on a winning football team — and what a better time than for them to add a transcendent pass-rusher with an exuberant personality.
Thibodeaux could become a star in New York, a major market desperate for one on the gridiron. Given the importance of his position and the swagger he carries on and off the field, Jets fans will love wearing his jersey and cheering him on every Sunday. While you no longer need a big market to become a star, being a homegrown name for a massive fan base as they grow into a winning football team would be an unbelievable opportunity to market itself. If his production matches his confidence, there isnt a better place for Thibodeaux to become a household name.
If Thibodeaux does live up to the potential we’ve seen in college, it may not totally matter where it ends up. Sometimes transcendent players are system- or team-proof and will find success no matter what they’re thrown into at the highest level.
But, considering the work that needs to be done to round out his game and his passions to be a star on and off the field, I have a hard time believing there’s any better situation for him than being a member of the New York Jets. There’s no guarantee that Thibodeaux, or New York, will ever achieve that raised bar of expectations, but they certainly could be the perfect match to help each other get to that point together.
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