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Can Kayvon Thibodeaux take another step towards super-stardom?

Kayvon Thibodeaux / USA TODAY Sports/SNY treated image

NFL training camp starts towards the end of July, which means players around the league are getting their last bits of offseason work in before the real work of trying to make the roster begins.

For certain players, this season is what some may call “Make or Break,” meaning they need to put together a productive year or they could be looking for employment elsewhere at the end of the 2023-24 campaign.

We’ll highlight those players for the Giants, continuing today with defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

2022 Stats

– 14 games (all starts)

– 49 tackles, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one touchdown), five passes defensed

– Four sacks, 13 quarterback hits

Why Make or Break?

Thibodeaux was the fifth overall pick in 2022’s draft and Giants fans are hopeful he will develop into a great pass rusher in the mold of former Giants Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul or Michael Strahan. After a slow start that saw him miss time with a knee injury, Thibodeaux entered week 13 with just one sack. However, he showed signs that he is headed on the right path with three sacks in the last five regular-season games.

Can Thibodeaux truly break out in 2023, though? The Giants don’t have a lot of depth at the defensive end positions, so the 22-year-old will get plenty of opportunities to produce. Is he ready to play at an elite level or will Giants fans start to get frustrated with him if he doesn’t generate more statistical production?

What will break it?

Clearly one of the things Thibodeaux needs to focus on this season is turning pressure into sacks. If he generates high pressure numbers but regularly fails to finish, that will limit his impact. The fact he had the three sacks down the stretch is hopefully a positive sign that he has been improving in this area, which was often an issue at Oregon as well.

After his strong finish to last season, teams could allocate more resources to slowing Thibodeaux down with chip blocks and double teams so this is something he’s going to need to adjust to. He at least has some experience of this from his final season in college.

Injuries will inevitably set his progress back too, so Thibodeaux will hope to remain healthy. In addition to the knee injury at the start of last year, he also had a hip injury in camp and missed time due to an ankle injury in his final year in college.

What will make it?

It’s a good situation for Thibodeaux if defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams are healthy and occupying bodies inside to give the youngster plenty of room to go to work. This suits Thibodeaux’s playing style which primarily relies on a quick get-off and speed rush moves around the edge.

The lightbulb came on for Thibodeaux about halfway through his rookie year, as he was unstoppable coming off the edge against the Dallas Cowboys, racking up five quarterback hits. He then followed that up with another breakout game against the Washington Commanders and finished the year strong. If he can bring the consistency he played with down the stretch to the entire 2023 season, and remain healthy, he should see a significant increase in his production.

While the focus is constantly on his pass rushing, Thibodeaux played fine against the run last season and was even effective dropping into coverage at times. Having been in an NFL weights program for a full year, this should hopefully make him able to hold up in the trenches even better than last year.

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