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The 2022 NFL Draft season is upon us. 

Among the 32 teams building their rosters to compete for the next Lombardi Trophy is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold 12 picks in this season’s draft -- including the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars are entering a new era after the Urban Meyer tenure, making this draft as pivotal as one could imagine.

As we march closer and closer to April’s draft, we will look at individual draft prospects and how they would potentially fit with the Jaguars. Instead of looking at any negatives, we are going to look at what the players do well and if they could match what the Jaguars need at the specific role or position.

In our first prospect breakdown of the draft cycle, we start at the very top and take a look at Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux. Does the former top recruit make sense for the Jaguars at No. 1 overall?

Overview

One of the best pass-rushing prospects of the last several years, Kayvon Thibodeaux was seen as a prized addition to the Oregon Ducks' program when he committed in December 2018. A five-star recruit who was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2019 class, Thibodeaux chose Oregon over Florida, Florida State, Alabama, and other programs. 

Thibodeaux instantly made an impact at Oregon, setting a freshman record in sacks with a team-leading 9.0 takedowns as well as 14 tackles for loss. His nine sacks were the most by a Pac-12 freshman since 2009, earning him Coaches Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

Playing in seven games in 2020, Thibodeaux led Oregon in sacks (3.0) and tackles for loss (9.5) yet again, recording a tackle for loss in six of the seven games he played in the reduced season. Thibodeaux was named AP Pac-12 All-Conference first team as a result, setting up a junior season that many projected would be his last.

After battling an early-season ankle injury, Thibodeaux finished 2021 with seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and 12 tackles for loss while turning in several big performances. He ended the year as a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Tim Hendricks Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Thibodeaux ended his Oregon career with 19 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.

What Kayvon Thibodeaux Does Well

It is clear when watching Thibodeaux that he is simply a different caliber of athlete compared to the other 21 players on the field. Thibodeaux always has the athleticism advantage and he plays like a defender who knows it, frequently taking advantage of small slivers of space given up by linemen with elite quickness and short-area explosion. 

Thibodeaux's athleticism stands out in space but it is especially evident when he is exploding off the ball and when he closes on the ball carrier. Thibodeaux gains a lot of ground with a powerful first step and frequently puts tackles ad a disadvantage right off the snap, forcing many to open their hips and shoulders early due to how quickly he is able to shoot upfield. 

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Aside from how explosive he is off the ball, Thibodeaux's athleticism shines when he finishes tackles. He closes on quarterbacks and running backs with legitimately violent physicality and burst, frequently causing offensive plays to lose all forward momentum and putting quarterbacks at risk of losing the ball altogether. 

In terms of his pass-rush skill set, it is clear Thibodeaux has the instincts as an edge rusher that one is looking for in a top pick. He wins with a variety of moves, whether pushing rips or speed rushes against a tackle's outside shoulder and then bending the edge to finish the play, or using his power and explosion to convert speed to power and bull rush tackles. He has also showed a few advanced moves such as a ghost rush and a fake-spin that makes it clear he is open to winning in multiple ways as opposed to simply running by tackles. 

As a run defender, Thibodeaux is better as a backside defender as things stand today, but that isn't because he is lacking in terms of willingness to stop the run or physicality. His ability to chase down plays is a big plus and he does a good job of setting a physical edge when ran at, but he must improve at ID'ing the ball in the backfield and having disciplined eyes. 

Thibodeaux also provides a lot of value on stunts because he brings more power than many may anticipate with a edge rusher. He is able to generate that power without having to take many forward motions, either, making it fairly easy for him to collapse the pocket and push guards back whenever he is stunted to the inside.

How Kayvon Thibodeaux Would Fit With the Jaguars

Few teams need more help on defense than the Jaguars, especially up front. While the Jaguars turned in a handful of solid defensive performances this past season, it became more clear each week that the Jaguars were getting the most that they could out of their current group, a unit that lacked playmakers who could win one-on-ones and force negative plays.

Per TruMedia and PFF, the Jaguars defense finished No. 26 in sacks (32.0), No. 13 in pressure percentage (9.6%), No. 22 in quarterback hits (91), and No. 32 in fumbles forced (2.0). Josh Allen (7.5) and Dawuane Smoot (6.0) combined for 13.5 sacks, but no other Jaguars' defender had more than 3.0. And in terms of edge rushers, the Jaguars' backups (K'Lavon Chaisson, Jihad Ward, Lerentee McCray, Jordan Smith) combined for just three sacks. In short, the Jaguars got little to nothing out of their edge group in 2021 other than average seasons from Allen and Smoot. 

Allen has the tools to be a No. 1 pass-rusher and teed off against the Bills and the Colts twice in 2021, but it is clear the Jaguars need another dynamic pass-rusher across from him. Considering Smoot projects best as a No. 3 pass-rusher who can also line up inside, the Jaguars would be smart to add a tag-team partner for Allen who would let Smoot play a more natural role. 

Thibodeaux does this and some. While he is far from a finished product, his athleticism and pass-rush instincts alone would make him a potentially lethal bookend across from Allen, which would improve the Jaguars' entire defense. More help for Allen means less offensive attacks geared directly toward stopping him and only him, while it would also mean better efficiency from Smoot who would be playing in a role more equipped for his skill set. 

Jacksonville also needs to factor in just how bad they were against mobile quarterbacks in 2021. From Kyler Murray to Zach Wilson to Ryan Tannehill, the Jaguars frequently failed to limit quarterbacks from both escaping sacks and picking up positive yards with their legs because the Jaguars had a slow defensive line. While Smoot is a good player, he doesn't compare to Thibodeaux's athleticism in space, something the Jaguars clearly missed in 2021.

Verdict

There are genuine concerns in regards to just how complete of a pass-rusher Thibodeaux can be due to his sometimes streaky play, but he makes perfect sense for a Jaguars' defense that needs more blue chip talents. The Jaguars' defense simply won't get better until they find a semblance of consistent pass-rush, and they won't do that with Chaisson, Ward, and Smoot. 

While taking Thibodeaux at No. 1 overall would carry some risks involved due to his injury history, a team with a strong defensive line coach should be able to tap into his sky-high potential sooner than later. Whether Thibodeaux should be the pick over Evan Neal is one debate to be had, but the debate of whether Thibodeaux is deserving to be selected with the top pick should be over.