Kayvon Thibodeaux will begin his professional career with the New York Giants. 

On Thursday night, with the fifth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Giants selected Thibodeaux, giving the Oregon Ducks their third straight draft with a first-round selection—a first in the program’s history—and a top-10 selection in five of the last eight drafts. Thibodeaux is also the highest-drafted Duck player since Marcus Mariota went second in the 2015 class.

New York probably feels like it got the best player in the draft. 

At the outset of the 2021 college football season, Thibodeaux was viewed as the presumptive favorite to be picked No. 1 overall on this night. He played in 11 games, totaled 49 tackles with 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and helped the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship game. 

In the months since the season ended, the 6-foot-4, 254-pound edge rusher watched his stock steadily decline. Questions about his motor and his passion for football crept up. He appeared in 32 games in three seasons with Oregon; how’s his durability?

When Thibodeaux met with one team at the NFL Scouting Combine in March, “they were kinda on me, they were giving me a hard time,” he said. He was asked how he would handle not being a top draft pick, how he would handle not being a star right away, how he would handle going through a rough stretch of play to begin his career; questions to see how he’d handle adversity.

“I’m an L.A. kid and if you know the adversity I went through to get here and the things I had to sacrifice and the things my mother had to sacrifice for me to get here, you’d really understand how I feel in my heart,” he told reporters at the Combine then. “When you talk about fire, you talk about passion, I can’t really explain it. I get emotional thinking about it because of all the sacrifices it took me to get here. I’m blessed to be here.’’

At Oaks Christian High School, Thibodeaux’s teams were 32-7 his final three years. At Oregon, his teams were 26-9 and participants in the Pac-12 Championship Game all three years. He was a three-time All-Pac-12 first-teamer and a two-time All-American as a Duck.

Since the start of the 2019 season (his freshman year), only four FBS players had more than his 34.5 tackles for loss. In Oregon program history, only six players had more career sacks than Thibodeaux’s 19. As a freshman in 2019, Thibodeaux led the nation in fourth-quarter sacks (seven). 

At Oregon’s Pro Day on April 1, Thibodeaux slammed the pre-draft criticism he received. “The most ridiculous thing I’ve heard is that I’m not the best player in this class,” he said. 

Former NFL All-Pro defensive end Chuck Smith, during a recent appearance on the College Football Uncensored podcast, said he felt Thibodeaux—who he helped train during the pre-draft process—was the most skilled edge rusher in the 2022 class and a deserving No. 1 overall pick. 

During the pre-draft process, Thibodeaux sought advice from Super Bowl winners in Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Donald told him to stay true to himself.

“We had a talk about just being who you are and being confident that everything you’ve done to get to this point is what’s going to keep you going, so don’t really worry about people who aren’t putting that work in,” Thibodeaux said at his Pro Day.

Perhaps all the hubbub was intentional from teams hoping to see Thibodeaux slide in the draft to them. Oregon is no stranger to seeing its elite pro prospects questioned with a harsh light. Justin Herbert was soft and immature before the draft and everyone had a take about why he wouldn’t be successful. Then he won AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and set L.A. Chargers records in Year 2. 

Sometimes the pre-draft stuff is just wrong. 

Thibodeaux will look to prove that’s the case once again. 

Long and exceedingly strong, Thibodeaux doesn’t play with a ton of finesse, but he didn’t often need to at Oregon to blow up plays in the backfield. What he lacks in fluidity as a pass-rusher, he makes up for with obvious physical advantages. He’s remarkably explosive at the snap of the football.

Thibodeaux will link up with a Giants franchise that went 4-13 last season and is hoping for a new star on the defensive side of the ball. 

“I know what I can do for a team,” he says.

Now Giants fans will get to find out, too.