The Detroit Lions have made it no secret that—at the very least—they are entertaining the possibility of taking Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux with the second overall pick. General manager Brad Holmes has met with him several times, watching him play in a game last October against UCLA, the team met with him at the NFL Combine, they sent a cavalcade of staffers to his Pro Day last week, and he will reportedly travel to Allan Park for a top-30 visit later this month.
In a sit down with a few reporters on Thursday, Lions head coach Dan Campbell explained why the Lions are doing their homework on the 21-year-old defender.
“When you’re pickin’ where we’re pickin’—well, anytime really—you want to know, man, you’re really checking all the boxes,” Campbell said. “And I think as much exposure as you can get, the better off you are, you know?”
But it certainly appears the Lions are doing more than their due diligence. Sure, the Lions have gone to pro days with other candidates for the second overall pick—Aidan Hutchinson, Travon Walker, Kyle Hamilton, among others—but Thibodeaux is clearly requiring some extra scouting.
Of course, the biggest criticism facing Thibodeaux from the larger media surrounds his buy-in. Whether it’s some questioning whether he’s giving his all on every play, or others wondering about whether he truly loves football due to other interests, Thibodeaux’s character has been at the forefront of the discussion. And to Campbell, the mental side of the game comes down to one very simple question.
“Does he love ball?” Campbell said. “Because if you’ve got all the other stuff and you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t know. (There’s) some questions… pfft. It’s not worth it. So I just think in the simplest terms, I just think that’s how we look.”
Extracting whether a player loves football may be harder than it sounds. With the heavy media training each player gets, they’re obviously going to want to present like someone who loves and prioritizes football when interacting with prospective coaches at the NFL Combine or at a top-30 meeting.
Campbell said with some players, those sorts of questions are answered quickly and clearly. Others, like in this case with Thibodeaux, may take some extra homework.
“You just want to make sure that any questions you have, that you have them answered. That’s the best way to say it,” Campbell said. “Some guys, you can get those questions a lot sooner. Some guys, those questions got answered two months ago. You know? 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, that’s the other things. So could be the mental, could be anything. That’s just kind of the nature of it.”
So what does someone who loves football look like when they’re in a meeting with a coaching staff?
“They love it, and they can’t stop talking about it, and they can tell you all the little ins and outs,” Campbell said. “And it may not be the perfect terminology, but man, they can talk it, and they love it and they know it and they want more of it.”
For a guy like Thibodeaux, there seems to be a national difficulty in parsing out his interests outside of football with whether he’s truly fully invested in the game. Campbell is obviously concerned about a player’s devotion to football, but everything else is just noise. Campbell is confident his set of coaches can get your game in the right direction as long as your love of the game is there.
“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,” Campbell said. “You’ll put in the work. We can get through to guys like that, I feel like.”
Beyond Thibodeaux’s character questions, there’s not a lot of other red flags in his game. He was one of the most productive pass rushers in the country last year, and his athletic traits—specifically his lethal first step—should translate well to the next level of the game. Campbell didn’t shy away from being impressed with his work on the field.
“He’s an explosive athlete,” Campbell said. “He’s a playmaker, you know? He’s got a good, quick first step. I mean, he’s something else. He’s pretty special on tape.”
The question on draft day will be whether Campbell, Holmes, and the endless amount of work the team’s scouting staff has done determine if Thibodeaux loves the game or not.