The New York Giants seemed to get a steal in the NFL Draft when Kayvon Thibodeaux fell to them with the fifth pick. Now the question is, can the rookie steal Defensive Rookie of the Year honors?
With mandatory mini camps ongoing across the NFL, football fans and analysts have amped up the speculation on how teams will perform during the 2022 season. There are few teams in the NFL with more exciting questions heading into the season than the New York Giants.
Since the end of last season, the Giants hired a new general manager, a new head coach, new coordinators and assistant coaches on both sides of the ball, and had multiple draft picks in the top ten of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Those new changes have many optimistic that the Giants can get back into the playoff for the first time since the 2016 season.
However, perhaps none of the new additions is bringing as much potential excitement as rookie defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.
The Oregon product at one point seemed like a strong bet to be the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. He was the number two overall high school recruit in the 2019 class and received offers from 27 schools before choosing Oregon over Alabama and USC to name a few.
He announced himself as a force during his freshman season, notching nine sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. After the COVID-shortened 2020, he came back during his junior year, where the 6’5″ Thibodeaux recorded seven sacks, 49 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and forced two fumbles for the Ducks.
Given his track record, it’s no surprise that Thibodeaux remains a betting favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year despite falling to the 5th overall pick. In fact, at the time of this reporting, the Giants’ defensive end trails on Aidan Hutchinson in early Vegas odds to claim the trophy.
Despite the rookie being in a red non-contact jersey during the Giants’ recent mandatory minicamp, the team has no concerns about him being ready for OTAs. As a result, the defensive end remains a strong bet to claim Rookie of the Year honors.
Part of the early optimism surrounding Thibodeaux is because of his size and explosiveness, but another factor is the defensive scheme he is set to be a part of.
Giants’ new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale builds his defensive scheme around aggression, which is good because the Giants were fifth-worst in the NFL in pressure rate last season. “You want to dictate to the offense instead of sitting there and letting them dictate to you,” Martindale said earlier in the offseason. “Because pressure does break pipes. That’s our philosophy.”
During his four years as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Martindale blitzed more than anybody else in the NFL. He likes to put a lot of bodies on the defensive line and confuse the offensive linemen’s assignments, leading to free rushers at the quarterback.
That’s good news for Thibodeaux, who brings a quick first step and strong pass-rushing technique right out of the gate. He was praised in college for having relentless pursuit of the ball and playing with a violent streak, traits which are sure to endear him to his new coaches and teammates.
With the Giants still having questions in their secondary, it’s even more likely that Martindale will try to get after the quarterback quickly to mask other weaknesses. That could lead to a strong enough statistical campaign for the rookie out of Oregon to vault him over fellow rookie defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson (Detroit Lions) and Travon Walker (Jacksonville Jaguars).
It will likely be a battle between the three for the majority of the season, but given the upside that Thibodeaux possesses, it would be foolish to count him out.