Kayvon Thibodeaux: A 3-D Pass Rusher Shot Out of a Cannon | 2022 NFL Draft

Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux has the inside track on being the best prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft Class and the type of blue-chip EDGE player who you can build a dominant defense around. As I continue to break down the top college prospects who could potentially be a foundational building block for the Houston Texans rebuild, Kayvon playing the most important non-QB position in football creates serious intrigue, which he backs up.

It's time to discuss who Kayvon is, how he harnesses his elite athleticism to win on the field, what areas of his game I'd like to see him improve upon going forward and why I'm confident he has the tools to take those steps.


Born in South Los Angeles, Kayvon attended Oaks Christian High School where his penchant for sacks was on display with 54 over four years and tallying at least one sack in 16 of his 27 games as a junior and senior. Kayvon has long been recognized as a historic top prospect, being a consensus 5-star recruit, the #1 ranked player in the 2019 class on the ESPN300, the #2 ranked player in 247Sports Composite Rankings and the #23 overall ranked recruit in college football history - quite the feat for a defensive player.

Attending Oregon in 2019, Kayvon proved to be a generational freshman freak, setting the team freshman record with 9 sacks and 14 TFLs (both led the team) while playing a rotational role! He earned the most sacks (9) by a Pac-12 freshman since Nick Perry (9) of USC in 2009 and set a Pac-12 Championship Game record with 2.5 sacks in the win over Utah. Furthermore, Kayvon really heated up over the final six games of the season, totaling 24 tackles, 10 TFLs and 6.5 sacks.

That "slow burner" trend continued in 2020, with a limited offseason and transitioning into a full-time starting role, Kayvon started the season a bit quieter. He saw more attention from offensive lines and was sent running backs his way in the form of chip blocks. Offensive tackle's also knew the scouting report on Kayvon, and how to slow down his go-to moves.

Thus, his sack totals dropped from 9 to 3 - games played also dropped from 14 to 7 - but just like in 2019, he finished on fire. In his final four games, Kayvon tallied a ridiculous 26 pressures, 6.5 TFLs, 2 PBUs and all 3 of his sacks, including another explosive Pac-12 Championship Game (showcasing his ability to step up in big moments) with 12 pressures, 1 TFL and 1 sack.

Kayvon is a highly decorated player that is heavily respected by coaches, media and analysts. His list of awards is mind blowing for a 20-year-old.


Furthermore, Oregon Head Coach, Charles Collins, has known Kayvon since his High School days and has created a "life long bond". He's seen up close and personal just how special Kayvon is on and off the field, stating, "He has his head on his shoulders pretty straight and he’s the epitome of a student-athlete. He was a product of the work ethic he displayed on a daily basis. His work ethic and his leadership were qualities that he brought outside of his physical talent."

In addition, Oregon Defensive Coordinator, Andy Avolos praises the mental side of Kayvon's game, "He is extremely talented in the way that he understands the game. He has the gift of being able to work well with others".

Google his name and it's clear that Kayvon has the production and personality traits that NFL teams covet out of a defensive cornerstone. It's one thing for his coaches to heap on praise, but actions speak louder than words and the film can help back up these complimentary claims on Kayvon. Personally, I love to understand and break down the HOW behind all those sacks, TFLs and pressures.

How He Wins

Kayvon Thibodeaux is a 3-dimensional rusher who terrorizes offensive tackles while keeping them guessing. Everything starts with athleticism for Kayvon and it's such an important trait for the EDGE position. Take a look at some of the best EDGE defenders (and top defensive draft picks) in the NFL and a common theme is apparent.

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Finding these behemoths who are extremely explosive (10-yard split) off the snap and agile (3-cone drill) to bend around the corner for a sack, help provide the baseline athletic traits of an elite prospect and are often more important than the flashy 40-yard dash (how often are defensive linemen really running 40 yards downfield?).

Now, there is much more to rushing the QB than just being explosive and agile (just ask Clowney), so don't worry, we'll get to that in a second. For Kayvon and future top EDGE prospects though, it provides a blueprint to follow and a box to check off come NFL Combine time.

I'm confident that Kayvon will blow up the combine but those tests are a good six months away and I'm an impatient man. Thus we can go to the trusty film to see just how freakish Kayvon's athleticism truly is on the field.

True freshman 2019 Kayvon was a man amongst boys, despite being a 19-year old boy himself. He might be the best college player in the world within the first second after the snap. That precious second is how Kayvon embarrasses most tackles by exploding off the snap with elite get-off to win the 10-yard race.

After just two steps Kayvon (#5) is three yards downfield, forcing the right tackle to flip his hips and run while the ball hasn't even been snapped to the QB yet.

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That element continued in 2020, where Kayvon weaponizes his explosiveness by beating athletic tackles (14th overall pick in 2021, Alijah Vera Tucker #75) to their landmarks. Watch both players' feet closely and you'll see that Kayvon's absurd explosiveness - which looks like he's shot out of a cannon - allows him to take three whole steps downfield in the same time that Vera-Tucker can barely make one kick step. Thus, Vera-Tucker is forced to take one drop step to flip his hips to the sideline and prepare for the threat of Kayvon's outside rush

This puts Vera-Tucker in a compromising situation and an unplanned one at that. USC calls for a 3-step drop and look at the Right Tackle (#70) who takes 3 kick steps and is in good position with hip discipline. Now look back to Vera-Tucker who barely got one, being forced to turn and recover.

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Yes, the RT didn't actually have a rusher come his way, but it shows the depth and landmark that Vera-Tucker was supposed to get to, if not for Kayvon ruining his day and forcing the QB to scramble before getting to make his reads.

Kayvon pairs his elite explosiveness with elite bend, a common word used to describe ones ability to be flexible and point their hips to the QB to finish sacks. This is the beauty of the 3-cone drill, which asks players to get low and "corner" around cones to test how agile and bendy they truly are.

*Von Miller's 6.7 second 3-cone drill in the 2011 NFL Combine*

As previously mentioned, these athletic elements provide a good foundation, but combining them with technique and nuance is required out of the elite pass rushers. Kayvon does exactly that and excels rushing towards the outside dimension.

Dimension #1: Outside

The outside dimension is the first of three dimensions I'll break down to display how Kayvon varies his rushes and finds success with a decently versatile diet of pass rush moves.

Versus California in 2019, we see Kayvon's (#5) go-to move; the speed-dip-rip to the outside dimension.

Step 1 is exploding off the snap. He literally jumps off both feet on this rep, instead of the typical staggered get-off.

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Step 2 is pointing his shoulders and hips to the outside half (or dimension) of the left tackle.

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Step 3 is simultaneously dipping his inside shoulder while taking his 3rd step towards the tackle. Why dip that shoulder? Well it minimizes the surface area the tackle has to try and strike Kayvon and stall his progress. Thus, instead of stonewalling Kayvon's chest, the tackle strikes his back instead and cannot slow the Cannon down.

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Step 4 is flipping his hips from being pointed to the end zone, to being pointed to the QB and essentially the sideline. Pass rushers who are less bendy+agile will take a wider path and end up past the 15 yard line when they get to the QB, making it easy for the QB to step up and avoid them. Not Kayvon though, who's able to stay on balance and not get pushed past the pocket, thus eating the QB alive.

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Let's watch this one more time because this is a beauty, get used to his go-to move!

Kayvon has mastered the speed-dip-rip and here's a better look at the "rip" action to disengage from the tackle. Kayvon hooks his inside arm underneath the LTs outside armpit which forces the LT to let go, in fear of his arm being literally ripped off.

The outside dimension is a powerful one, and the most common dimension for pass rushers to win from. What Kayvon needs to do next is build counters to his speed-dip-rip (like an inside spin which he has flashed) and refine more outside dimension moves (which I believe he has the tools to do, more on that later) like a cross-chop, club or whatever he fancies.

This will truly take his game to the next level and help ensure double digit sack prowess, in my opinion. I'm confident in that take because even if he does not expand on his outside dimension rushes, Kayvon wins in the other two dimensions.

Dimension #2: Inside

Next, let's discuss the inside dimension which poses as a good counter to the outside dimension. Kayvon has wrecked havoc using an inside pass rush move where he displays a variety of swipes, clubs or forklifts to beat the tackle's hands.

This is a rare item to have in a true freshman's bag, but Kayvon is special and I love the mind games he plays on the tackle.

Step 1 is mimicking his outside dimension speed rush, which the right tackle must respect due to the massive gap in their respective explosiveness. Then on his 2nd step off the snap, Kayvon plants his outside foot and uses it as a springboard to launch himself inside and cross the tackle's face.

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Step 2 is Kayvon throwing a slight jab with his inside hand, to confuse the tackle into throwing out his own hands and being a step behind the actual move.

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Once Kayvon approaches the inside hip of the tackle, there's one step left, defeating the tackle's hands. This rep shows Kayvon extending his inside arm and lifting it up to brush off the tackle's desperate last second attempt.

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You'll see Kayvon vary the way he defeats the tackle's hands, but these inside moves are all set up the same way. With explosive get-off towards the outside dimension, then a hard plant to explode back inside. In these next three cutups, we see a slap, a swipe and a forklift to disengage, demonstrating Kayvon's variety in which he uses his hands like a martial arts master.

Furthermore, Kayvon's inside dimension rushes demand offensive line attention from more than just the tackle. Aligned as a 6-tech defensive end with an outside linebacker to his right, Kayvon is versatile enough to slant inside and force a matchup with a guard. He takes one massive lateral step to his left, then strikes the left guard in the chest while quickly transitioning into an arm-over move to disengage and bring down the QB.

While I would like Kayvon to expand his outside dimension rush repertoire, there is not much more he needs to add to his inside dimension rushes. The setup is already nuanced and his hand usage to disengage is already so varied that Kayvon should have fairly immediate success with this move at the next level as long as he continues to utilize his technique and not rely on athleticism.

Dimension #3: Middle

While Kayvon's outside and inside rushes already make it difficult to block him, the third dimension is the one that balances them all out - the middle dimension.

Kayvon is able to harness his explosive get-off to generate speed towards the tackle and transfer that to functional power at the point of attack that results in a mean bull rush.

Versus USC in 2020, Kayvon flies off the snap to meet a tackle with a quick kick step and has no immediate advantage at the landmark.

While his shoulders and hips are initially pointed towards the outside dimension, Kayvon doesn't force his go-to speed-dip-rip.

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Instead, he gets low, shoots his hands into the RTs chest and upon impact, turns his shoulders and hips towards the QB and displaces the RT a few yards backwards.

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The poor QB had no chance in stepping up to avoid Kayvon.

In terms of future improvement, Kayvon just needs to replicate this rush consistently. That sounds so simple and obvious, but the fine detail that made this bull rush successful is that Kayvon attacked "half the man".

He didn't just run down the middle of the RT's chest - he attacked the middle dimension, yes, but placed his hands and the bulk of his weight+power on the tackle's outside shoulder. Distributing the power in a very approximate 70:30, outside shoulder:chest ratio, is the easiest way to collapse the pocket on a bull rush.

When you're focusing majority of your power on the shoulder - which has less surface area and strength than the chest - you're able to create more push in that direction than if 100% of your power was focused solely on the chest.

For example, look at these less prosperous attempts at a bull rush because Kayvon gets both his hands into the tackle's chest, rather than attacking half the man.

Kayvon doesn't have the size of a Myles Garrett or JJ Watt to simply run down the middle of a 320+lb offensive linemen, and that's okay. He can still convert his speed to power and attack the middle dimension with a bull rush or long arm, as long as he accurately places his hands and attacks half the man.

Complete Package

Now that we know how Kayvon beats offensive tackles in the three different dimensions and what he can improve on in each area let's quickly show all the other aspects Kayvon brings to the table as he is truly a complete EDGE prospect.

I came away very impressed with all the "small" things that Kayvon excels at that not every blue chip EDGE prospect prides themselves on. Let's start with run defense, something that pundits picked on Chase Young for taking plays off during.

Kayvon regularly plays with very calculated technique to set the edge. He gets low to engage the tackle and win the leverage battle, he strikes with inside hands to control the chest and POA and he moves his feet to gain outside leverage and force the run back inside. All of which is on display on this rep vs Washington in 2020.

Despite not making the tackle on that play, Kayvon followed everything else to the textbook, and showed good effort to chase in pursuit. What I also like is his mental processing, the trait that allows him to instinctually react to the play in front of him and get in proper position to succeed.

Below vs USC, you see Kayvon explode off the snap like he's rushing the QB on 3rd down, but it's actually a run. Instead of getting caught too far upfield - like Texans fans know JJ Watt or Jadeveon Clowney would do - Kayvon immediately throttles down and gets into "run defense mode" to stack and shed perfectly.

That instantaneous processing is extremely rare out of defensive linemen, and an extremely underrated trait to have while offenses are utilizing more motion and misdirection than ever. It allows Kayvon to quickly read and react to this tricky option play.

With three potential options to get the ball in the backfield, Kayvon only takes half a step towards the QB before he realizes that the WR actually has the ball. Since there was very little wasted motion or hesitation, Kayvon puts himself in the position to utilize his elite athleticism and chase down the run.

That effort is constantly seen in Kayvon's tape in the run and pass game, where he acts as a heat seeking missile with one mission: get the ball.

In addition, another "little thing" that Kayvon excels at is swatting the ball at the LOS. He earned 3 PBUs in 2019 and another 3 in 2020 due to his long arms, innate feel to position himself in front of passing lanes and effort to get a hand up after a stymied rush

Oregon even asked Kayvon to spot drop into zone coverage on occasion and while I wouldn't ask him to do it at the next level, he wasn't a liability and was actually functional for his position

It's very rare to find an EDGE prospect who rushes the QB in all three dimensions, defends the run with technique and effort, processes the mental game quickly, has a motor that never stops revving, bats balls at the LOS and has experience dropping in coverage.

Kayvon's Future

Kayvon is the complete package and it's his willingness to put in the work to build the complimentary pieces of his game that give me confidence he'll be able to expand his pass rush repertoire even more. While it's easy to say that most college pass rushers need to refine their technique and add counter moves, how can we tangibly believe that a prospect will do such things?

First, it comes down to their work ethic, and by all reports, Kayvon is special in that regard. Second, are they physically and mentally able to execute those highly nuanced moves? I believe Kayvon's film proves he can.

Executing an advanced move requires hand placement and timing, which Kayvon has displayed with his inside dimension rushes and technically refined run defense. They also require the mental processing to read offensive linemen's leverage and if they are baiting your hands or actually striking. Kayvon checks that box too, displaying cat-like reflexes when processing plays in front of him. I'm confident that he'll be able to react to minute movements by offensive tackles too.

Mixing all of those traits into a pot encourages me to believe that Kayvon has a very good chance of hitting his elite ceiling and becoming one of the best EDGE defenders in the NFL.

Concluding Thoughts

With all things considered, Kayvon Thibodeaux is my early top prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft Class. People love player comparisons and Kayvon reminds me of Chase Young out of college (more of a complete package but slightly worse with his hands) and has some current Shaq Barrett in him too.

The explosive first step, flexibility and agility to bend the corner and 3-dimensional pass rush repertoire reminds me of how Barrett racks up eye-popping sacks. Could Kayvon be the star EDGE player to help lead a Super Bowl winning defense like Barrett? I think he can.

Watch out NFL QBs, Kayvon has already proved he can dominate college competition, he's coming to sack your favorite QB next.