Kayvon Thibodeaux isn’t recording many sacks, but the fifth player taken in the 2022 NFL draft is beginning to add some oomph to the pass rush for the New York Giants. A rising defense still needs more than Thibodeaux to put consistent heat on quarterbacks.
Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale has added aggression and creativity to the playbook, but his defense has logged a mere 20 sacks through 11 games. The Giants failed to register a quarterback takedown in each of their last two outings, defeats to the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
More sacks will happen once Thibodeaux has a partner opponents also need to plan to stop. One ideal prospect can fall the Giants’ way in the 2023 draft, according to a prominent analyst.
Productive LB Perfect for Giants
Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders lands with the Giants at 24th overall in Dane Brugler’s mock draft for The Athletic. An opening-round grade is lofty for a prospect Brugler admits has divided draft observers: “The NFL feedback on Drew Sanders lands anywhere between the first round and third round, so it will be interesting to see where he falls on draft weekend.”
Despite the split in opinions about his potential, Sanders is producing on the field: “He leads the Hogs in tackles (103), tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (3).”
The numbers are particularly impressive considering Sanders plays all over the formation. He’s proved his worth as a thumper against the run from the inside linebacker spot, like with this memorable hit against Missouri State:
Sanders has also developed into a game-changing pass-rusher. He showcased his talent on the blitz to notch this sack against Liberty:
The latter area is where the Giants might get the most out of Sanders, although the 230-pounder would need to add more bulk to his frame to set the edge at the pro level. Sanders may work best inside initially, where the player Brugler described as “a long, athletic defender with experience all over the front seven,” would provide the right complement for Thibodeaux on the outside.
2022 1st-Rounder Needs Help
Thibodeaux has been flashing hints of his ability to dominate in recent games. His development hasn’t gone unnoticed by Martindale, who said Thibodeaux’s “on the rise, he’s on the come. He’s much better than what I originally expected as far as all the other little stuff. I’m not saying that just him personally, I’m saying rookies, he’s much further ahead than most of the rookies in his class as far as how he prepares for the game and his knowledge of the game already and of the defense itself,” per Matt Citak of Giants.com.
Pressure on the pocket is what the Giants count on Thibodeaux to deliver. The rookie is meeting expectations in this area:
What Thibodeaux is struggling to do is finish plays. He has just one sack so far this season, but splash plays would increase if Martindale had another player capable of wrecking offenses from multiple angles.
Sanders fits the bill and would give the Giants the kind of one-two punch every linebacker-led defense needs. Martindale wouldn’t tire of finding different ways to move them around the front seven and create overload pressure looks, as well as false flags to confuse blockers and QBs.
The Martindale blueprint relies on mixing and matching rush with disguise. It’s yielded positive results at times this season, even though the play-caller hasn’t had enough marquee playmakers to make his designs work consistently.
Pairing Sanders with Thibodeaux would not only give Martindale more options. It would also draw some of the focus away from Thibodeaux and allow him to add those missing impact plays to his game.