Whatever the Detroit Lions decide to do with Kayvon Thibodeaux, it won’t be for a lack of getting to know the Oregon pass rusher.
By the time the NFL draft kicks off later this month, the Lions will have spent as much in-person time with Thibodeaux as any prospect as they try and figure out if he is a culture fit for the organization.
Lions coach Dan Campbell told beat reporters Wednesday both he and general manager Brad Holmes spent time with Thibodeaux at the NFL combine in March. Holmes also attended an Oregon game in the fall, one of two college games he went to last year, the Lions sent a contingent of coaches and scouts to Oregon’s pro day last week, and Thibodeaux is scheduled to make a top-30 visit to Detroit.
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“You want to make sure that any questions that you have, that you have them answered. That’s the best way to say it,” Campbell said. “Some guys, you can get those questions answered a lot sooner. Some guys, those questions got answered two months ago. And some, it goes all the way down the line. And that’s top to bottom, that’s across the board, that’s not always just the athletic ability, it’s the other things. So could be the mental, could be anything. That’s just kind of the nature of it.”
Thibodeaux is widely regarded as one of the most gifted players in this year’s draft, and Campbell praised his football abilities Wednesday, calling him an “explosive athlete” and “playmaker (who has) a good, quick first step.”
“He’s something else,” Campbell said. “He’s pretty special on tape.”
The USA TODAY High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, Thibodeaux had an impressive nine-sack season as a freshman at Oregon, but his production slipped the past two years. He had three sacks in the COVID-shortened season of 2020, and seven while missing time with an ankle injury last year.
Thibodeaux is considered a clean prospect off the field, but some scouts have expressed concern about how receptive he is to coaching, how his strong-willed personality will fit in a locker room and whether he’s more concerned with building his brand than he is becoming a great football player.
At the NFL combine in March, Thibodeaux called that a “media narrative” and said he hoped to show teams it was off base.
“The biggest thing that I kind of want to articulate with the teams is that I’m really a student of the game,” Thibodeaux told reporters. “I really love this game and this is something that has done a lot for me. Football has taught me a lot. It’s helped me grow a lot and through my life it’ll be there till the day I die.
“So for me, just letting teams know that this is the main thing and I’m always going to keep the main thing, the main thing no matter what else I do off the field. Football is my main focus and winning a Super Bowl, getting a yellow jacket, being Defensive Rookie of the Year is on my list of goals.”
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Thibodeaux is among a small group of prospects believed to be under consideration for the Lions with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Several of the others, including Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Georgia’s Travon Walker, also are expected to make top-30 visits to Detroit — Hutchinson will take part in the Lions’ local prospect day next week — but none has deal with the same type of scrutiny as Thibodeaux.
Holmes attended Michigan’s pro day to see Hutchinson last month, but he did not see a Michigan game in person last season. The Lions GM did travel to a Georgia game, but did not attend the Bulldogs’ pro day. The Lions spent a week coaching two other prospects who could be in the mix at No. 2, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis and Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson, at the Senior Bowl.
Campbell, who has not attended any pro days this spring, said team is doing its best to ignore outside views on Thibodeaux and rely on its own experiences, including those of national scout Mark Olson, west coast scout Cary Conklin and defensive line coach Todd Wash.
Ultimately, Campbell said the Lions are trying to answer one question with Thibodeaux and every player in this year’s draft.
“You’re just trying to gather all the information you can and then make a decision,” he said. “And just, I guess I’d go back to, story short, let me say this: I don’t care about the off-field. Like, does he love football? That’s all I care about. Ultimately, I think that’s all we care about is, man, if this guy loves football then we can handle anything else. So I’m not concerned with things off the field when you know a guy loves football.”