Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is one of the players who has frequently been associated with the Detroit Lions and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft later this month.
The Lions have done a lot of homework on Thibodeaux. Lions general manager Brad Holmes saw him play live when the Lions were in Los Angles playing the Rams last season and Thibodeaux and Oregon were playing UCLA the same weekend. The Lions met with the 21-year-old pass rusher at the Combine, and Holmes and a number of Lions staff were in Eugene for his Pro Day. The team is reportedly having him come to Allen Park for one of their 30 allotted pre-draft visits.
"When you're picking where we're picking – anytime really – you want to know, man, you're really checking all the boxes," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. "And I think as much exposure as you can get, the better off you are, you know?"
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For some prospects those questions are answered early in the process. For others, it takes more time. The important thing is taking the required time to get the answers, which is what the Lions are doing with Thibodeaux.
There's really no doubting his physical attributes and his production at Oregon. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds, with an impressive 1.56-second 10-yard split. His bench press, broad jump and 3-cone times all confirmed his athletic prowess.
The biggest criticism facing Thibodeaux has been the question about his commitment to football. Does he give it his all on every play? Does he really love ball? He addressed it at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
"I don't think I need to convince teams of it, that's the media narrative," he said. "There always has to be some narrative that's drawn. For me, I'm an LA kid and if you know the adversity I went through to get here, and the things that I had to sacrifice, and the things my mother had to sacrifice for me to be here, you'd really understand how I feel in my heart.
"When you talk about fire, when you talk about passion, I think you can't really explain it. I get emotional thinking about it, because all the sacrifices it took for me to get here, I wouldn't have made those sacrifices if I didn't love the game. I'm blessed to be here, and I'm just happy that these teams want to talk to me, and they want to get to know me."
For Campbell, it comes down to one simple thing when talking about a player's personality, character or some perceived off-the-field issues.
"All we care about is guys who love ball," he said. "Because if you love ball, you'll do whatever it takes to be competitive and go out there and set yourself up to have success. So you'll put in the work.
"Ultimately, I think that's all we care about. If this guy loves football, we can handle anything else. I'm not concerned with the things off the field if you know a guy loves football."
At No. 2, Campbell said he's looking for a player who can come in, start right away and make an immediate impact. Campbell praised the work Detroit's scouts have done on Thibodeaux up to this point, and that work will continue in the coming weeks leading up to the draft.
"Listen, he's an explosive athlete and a playmaker," Campbell said of Thibodeaux. "He's got a good, quick first step. He's something else. He's pretty special on tape."