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NFL Draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux Produced On The Field But May Have Gotten Tripped Up In Draft Meetings

LAS VEGAS — There’s no reason anyone has seen on a football field that Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux shouldn’t be selected early in the first round of Thursday night’s NFL draft. And his skills that allow him to produce on the field confirm that thinking.

Thibodeaux, you should remember, is 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds, ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (so he’s fast for his position), lifted 225 pounds 27 times (so he’s strong) and he collected 19 sacks in 31 career games for the Ducks (so he’s productive).

This guy would be my first overall pick if I was making the call and he should be in the top 3 of any legitimate mock draft.

Except that’s not the way it is looking at this stage.

Except what we’ve seen out in the open — on the field or in workouts — is apparently being affected by what happened in private between Thibodeaux and some teams he met with during the run up to this draft.

“It doesn’t just matter what you do between the lines,” said NFL draft analyst Joel Klatt, who will be part of the NFL Network’s coverage this weekend. “It matters what you do outside of football as well. I will say that the other guys, those other top four [edge rushers] had better meetings with teams than Kayvon did. So that matters. That’s going to be tangible.”

It’s not just Klatt saying this. Several NFL personnel people have heard the same.

So someone’s talking about this even though no one provides specifics of what exactly happened that teams were put off. But Thibodeaux doesn’t deny he’s confident and he has interests beyond football, both personal and business, and has his own motivations — and he’s not been shy about sharing those.

“It’s about maximizing opportunities …,” he said. “A lot of people, they put you in a box and want you to succumb to what they believe it should be for you. For me, it’s about having my own thoughts and being an outside-the-box thinker and going for it.”

Thibodeaux may have not maximized meetings with some teams but he was definitely engaging Wednesday during an NFL availability. He was energetic, both confident and humble when needed, and not at all controversial as to put anyone off about his personality.

And all this while understanding what the narrative about him has been the past couple of months:

“Just before anyone asks me the question, nothing is weird. There’s no negativity,” Thibodeaux said. “This is a blessing. I’ve been playing football for about a decade now. I was a kid playing football and now to finally make it to the NFL, bro, I don’t care where I get drafted, I don’t care what happens. It’s just got to happen.”

Everyone wants to be the No. 1 overall selection. Multiple players in this draft have said they believe they deserve that.

But unlike some players that use their draft status as a perceived slight, that’s not how Thibodeaux intends to approach it.

“For me, if you’re playing this game because of exterior motivation, you’re not going to be playing for a long time. Right?” he said. “So, for me, the only exterior motivation I have is my family and the people who believed in me. For me, it’s time. It’s time to go. I can’t wait to be a part of an organization. I can’t wait to open that door and clock in.”

Klatt said Thibodeaux is a fascinating case study about how teams are slotting players this year.

“I think it’s because coming into the season everyone was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going to be the No. 1 pick.’ And what happens is he gets hurt and maybe doesn’t put the production up like we anticipated,” Klatt said.

“He doesn’t dominate like Chase Young did or the Bosa brothers did. And then [Aidan] Hutchinson has that type of a year. And all of a sudden this [Travon] Walker guy is like, ‘Wow, he hasn’t really been starter and now this guy is dominating.’ And Jermaine Johnson transfers and he ends up having a great year.

“And now you’re sitting there and any little wart, if you want to call them that, on Kayvon, whether it’s his confidence bordering on arrogance, whether it’s his focus being on business interests, any little thing and it’s easy to pass him up. Because you’ve got other options. If there were no other edge rushers, he’d get selected No. 1 overall because he’s talented enough to be selected No. 1 overall. He’s a dominant force when he wants to be on the field, when he’s healthy.”

Thibodeaux is apparently brushing all that aside — at least publicly. He suggests his focus is not so much about being the first pick anymore but rather just being picked.

“This is the thing, a lot of people care about that because the numbers are different,” he said. “But that second contract is all that matters — the work you put in for that.

“I’m just excited to be on a team. At this point I’m like, man, I’m finna call you. I can’t keep waiting on the call. It’s fun, I’m excited. I’m a little bit nervous but it’s here now. It’s going to be fun.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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  1. I’ve always wondered how much truth there is to stories like this. Not a knock on Armando, but more to the sources of the information. Teams lower in the draft have such a high incentive to do what they can to lower a player’s draft stock to increase their chances at getting him, especially if they can do it anonymously.

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