The Case for Kayvon Thibodeaux Winning the 2021 Heisman

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Oregon football fans might remember December 15, 2018 with fondness. It was on that day that the No. 2 overall prospect in the country and No. 2 defensive end prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux committed to the University of Oregon over other powerhouse schools including Alabama, LSU and USC.

The addition of a player of Thibodeaux’s power automatically bumped the Ducks’ odds in the best online sports betting sites. It helped Oregon draw some attention out west, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

With Thibodeaux entering his third season as a Duck (with two PAC-12 Championships already under his belt while commanding the defense), surely there is a case for Kayvon winning the Heisman Trophy. If there was ever a person to follow in the footsteps of Ducks legend QB Marcus Mariota and win the Ducks a second Heisman, Kayvon Thibodeaux is clearly the man — and here’s why.

Since Coming to Oregon, Thibodeaux Has Been an Image of Excellence

Since Thibodeaux committed to Oregon in late 2018, a feeling that something very good was on its way has pounded stronger and stronger around Autzen Stadium. Thibodeaux can easily be considered the crown jewel in Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal‘s first full recruiting cycle. The 6’5, 250 pound former five-star player from Oaks Christian High School in Los Angeles found in Oregon a school where he could thrive in his position as defensive end, where he has brought a quickness and a polarizing first step off the ball that just screams “college star.”

Kayvon Thibodeaux will only cause PAC-12 teams more problems in 2021.

While Oregon football has long been known for its explosive offense, with guys such as Justin Herbert and Mariota having donned the green and yellow, Thibodeaux helped the Duck defense become a true threat in the PAC-12. His relationship from the get-go with Cristobal and the entire coaching staff also made it an easy choice for Thibodeaux to bring his immense power and talent to Oregon.

Two Years of Explosiveness and Accolades

With two full seasons under his belt, it is apparent that Thibodeaux has lived up to all the excitement and hype built around him. Two back-to-back PAC-12 championship wins, beating No. 5 Utah (and crushing their playoff hopes along the way in 2019), and then beating No. 13 USC in 2020 has only helped elevate the status of Thibodeaux as a game changer for Oregon.

For additional evidence, 18 quarterback pressures, 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks were Thibodeaux’s stats — and no, not for the two seasons — but for those two specific PAC-12 Championship games.

Thibodeaux has made the biggest plays in the biggest games.

But since we’re talking about stats, let’s break it down better to show just how darn good this defensive leader truly is. In his first season as a Duck he recorded 35 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 QB hits and a blocked punt. Season 2? Well, I hope you like repeats, because Thibodeaux put on yet another stellar season with 38 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 QB hits and 3 pass breakups. Remember one thing though: the 2020 season was only seven games long, so yeah, Thibodeaux is that good. If stats talk, then a Heisman nomination should well be in hand.

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How Real Are Thibodeaux’s Heisman Chances?

In order to find the last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, aka the most important individual accolade in college football, we would have to go all the way back to 1997 and to the great Charles Woodson. The Heisman has always felt like a quarterback award with a couple of detours along the way — three to be exact in the last 20 years.

Alabama running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry in 2009 and 2015, respectively, and Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith last season are the only non-QB players to win the award since 2000. But with a player as explosive as Thibodeaux you can’t help but feel out the odds and find some true hope in there.

Thibodeaux created a Rose Bowl interception with this play. Let’s do it again!

If Thibodeaux puts up another season with stellar numbers leading the Oregon defense to yet another PAC-12 Championship, then the road will start to pave itself. But Thibodeaux will need his Ducks team to step up as well. Oregon needs to take the talent they’ve been harvesting and developing for the past couple seasons and make a true run at the CFP.

Thibodeaux will easily be a Top-10 or maybe even Top-5 NFL draft prospect come 2022; for many analysts he was already a Top-5 talent if he had declared for this year’s draft. It would be very wise for Oregon and especially coach Cristobal to exploit his talent, his on-field charisma, and character — and to motivate his team to play at the same level of intensity as Thibodeaux.

Simply put, if Oregon can make a true case for a spot in the CFP, Thibodeaux will be right on top of the list of Heisman trophy nominees.

Oregon Reigns
Lakeside, Oregon
Top Photo by Tom Corno

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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