Lions putting in extra work, trying to check boxes on potential No. 2 pick Thibodeaux

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The pre-draft process hasn't been particularly kind to Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Oregon edge rusher, long presumed to be the No. 1 pick this year, has seen his on-field performance and football character nitpicked the past few months, while many national analysts have projected him coming off the board closer to pick No. 10 than first overall. 

But the reality is Thibodeaux remains very much in the conversation at the top of the draft, with the Detroit Lions putting extensive time into evaluating the defender and holding the No. 2 selection. 

Oregon defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux speaks during a press conference.

Not only did the Lions met with Thibodeaux at the scouting combine, but sent a contingent led by general manager Brad Holmes to Oregon's pro day, all prior to planning to host Thibodeaux for a top-30 visit at the team's headquarters in Allen Park next week. 

"When you're picking where we're picking — well, anytime really — you want to know, man, you're really checking all the boxes," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "I think as much exposure as you can get, the better off you are, you know? Hey, listen, he's an explosive athlete. He's a playmaker. He's got a good, quick first step. I mean, he's something else. He's pretty special on tape."

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Thibodeaux's physical attributes aren't really in question. The skill set is why he's in the conversation in the first place. And between the combine and pro day, he's rubber-stamped his athleticism. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, with an equally if not more impressive 1.56-second 10-yard split, confirming his explosiveness. Thibodeaux's bench press, broad jump and 3-cone times were also well above average. 

No, the bigger concerns with Thibodeaux relate to his football character. He's been accused of taking plays off during games and having confidence that borders on arrogance. 

"I tell a coach that there's nothing he can tell me that I don't already know, right?," Thibodeaux said at the combine. "It's because I'm honest with myself and I watch the tape. So if you're a student of the game you know what you can get better at."

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With answers like that, it's easy for a prospect to face questions about their coachability. So for all the talent Thibodeaux possesses, a team that is considering drafting him has to ask whether they'll be able to maximize his potential. 

"You just want to make sure that any questions you have, that you have them answered," Campbell said about the time the Lions have put into evaluating Thibodeaux this offseason. "That's the best way to say it. 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."

Campbell made it clear the team is looking for two things with the No. 2 pick: A prospect capable of starting immediately and one who is unquestionably passionate about the game. With the latter, it's a trait the Lions are seeking with every player on the roster. 

"Long story short, let me say this: I don’t care about the off-field," Campbell said. "Does he love football? That’s all I care about. Ultimately, I think that’s all we care about. If this guy loves football, we can handle anything else. I’m not concerned with the things off the field if you know a guy loves football.

"...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."

Campbell didn't attend Thibodeaux's pro day. In fact, the coach doesn't plan on going to any this year, because he doesn't want to be swayed by seeing one prospect up close while potentially missing another. And even if Campbell had been there, there's only so much he'll be able to ascertain about Thibodeaux's passion. Remember, these prospects are coached on what to say in interviews, so it's tough to get a true read.

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For a better understanding on a player's makeup, it's where Campbell leans on the team's scouting department, who have invested multiple years on college campuses, building more complete profiles. 

"I would say our scouts do a phenomenal job digging through that stuff," Campbell said. "Between that and even the little exposure that we have, you might not be able to always tell as a coach, necessarily.

"However, there are guys that just pop. You start talking ball, and all of sudden, you just do one of these," Campbell said, leaning back in his chair. "...But as far as the other ones who do a good job of hiding it, and they’re all coached up, and they’re all trained up — our scouts dig and dig and dig."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers