Will Kayvon Thibodeaux fall in NFL Draft? 4 likely landing spots if he slides past Jets

Of all the players in the 2022 NFL Draft, Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the biggest boom-or-bust prospect of this year’s class.

Thibodeaux is one of the highest-ceiling players of this year’s group of draft prospects, tallying 126 tackles (35 1/2 for loss) and 19 sacks in three years at Oregon, where he became one of college football’s premier defenders. The 6-4, 235-pounder is a physically dominant but raw defender, which is likely equal parts fascinating and worrying for NFL teams.

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On one hand, Thibodeaux is an unfinished product, one who relies more on physical traits and power as opposed to technique to beat opposing offensive linemen. Those technical aspects can be coached up, but it does raise the question of whether a team would be willing to spend a top-five pick on him if he’s not already exhibiting elite pass-rush technique.

The Jets are the team most projected to draft Thibodeaux, at No. 4 overalls. That said, New York has other needs it could conceivably prioritize over a powerful (if raw) edge defender. The Giants at Nos. 5 and 7 would be the next team up to land him, considering the Panthers should look at either offensive tackle or quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick.

The Falcons at No. 8 seem like the most likely team to draft Thibodeaux if he falls that far, but Atlanta has a mess on its hands at both receiver and quarterback, perhaps necessitating an offense-first move.

This is all hypothetical, of course, but one worth looking at should Thibodeaux somehow fall outside the top five. With that, The Sporting News looks at the team most likely to pick him up should he experience a fall in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Kayvon Thibodeaux landing spots

7. New York Giants

You might be wondering why the Giants wouldn’t take Thibodeaux at No. 5. They very well could. But outside observers generally agree that, despite New York’s desperate need for a pass-rusher, its biggest point of emphasis should be an anchor right tackle opposite Andrew Thomas. That likely results in the Giants taking whoever’s available among Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu and, potentially, Charles Cross with the fifth overall pick.

Considering the Panthers are expected to go offensive tackle or quarterback at No. 6, Thibodeaux should still be available at No. 7, satisfying both the Giants’ need for an offensive tackle and high-ceiling edge rusher. (This is TSN’s top-rated scenario for the Giants’ two first-round draft picks).

8. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons’ pass rush the past four seasons has been, in a word, dismal. Atlanta has not rated better than 23rd in the league in sacks, and twice has finished among the bottom three teams in that metric. No season was that more obvious than in 2021, when the Falcons tallied an NFL-low 18 sacks — 11 fewer than the next-lowest team, Philadelphia.

To put that into context: Pittsburgh’s TJ Watt (22.5) and Chicago’s Robert Quinn (18.5) had more sacks than the Falcons. There are other teams on this list that Thibodeaux could conceivably fall to, but it would be a massive shock to see Atlanta pass up on him if he were to fall this low.

FIRST-ROUND PROJECTIONS: Jets | Giants

10. New York Jets

Don’t expect the Jets to pass up Thibodeaux twice if he’s still available at 10. New York has other team needs it can fulfill at No. 4 (offensive tackle, receiver or perhaps “unicorn” safety Kyle Hamilton), but it would be foolish to let the Oregon defender go again after the Giants, Falcons and Seahawks all allowed him to fall to the Jets.

Remember that second-year coach Robert Saleh’s defense is predicated on a dominant defensive line. The Jets are already looking good in that area with Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers, and adding a top-end pass-rusher like Thibodeaux to that group would make this one of the top position groups in the AFC East.

13. Houston Texans

At this point, we’re just looking at teams with a need for improved pass rush (because the notion that Thibodeaux would fall this far is highly unlikely). Assuming the Texans use their No. 3 overall pick to draft an offensive tackle, Thibodeaux would be the best player available at another position of need at No. 13.

The Texans have a good young rusher in Jon Greenard, but could use a player of Thibodeaux’s caliber as an immediate upgrade and complement to the third-year rusher. Thibodeaux’s ability to set the edge would fit well in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme, but he needs to improve overall as a run defender. That ultimately should be a non-issue, especially if he falls to the 13th overall pick.

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