South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw could make your favorite NFL team better on the field in 2020, and his off-the-field story is even more inspiring
The 2020 NFL Draft is likely as much a reflection of the state of the league of any draft in recent memory: with quarterbacks and pass rushers reigning supreme.
In this week’s edition of draft diagnosis, we’ll take a look at one player: South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. Fans should have no problem rooting for on and off the field, regardless of whether he’s wearing the jersey of your favorite team at the start of next season:
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
Tale of the tape:
Hand: 10 1/8″
Arm: 34 5/8″
Kinlaw committed to South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ class of 2016 as a three-star prospect at defensive end. He had a host of other impressive scholarship offers at the time, including Alabama, Clemson, and Florida.
This hardly tells the full story, however, as Kinlaw had to go the junior college route in order to rehabilitate his grades enough to warrant accepting a Division I scholarship offer. Under the watchful eye of Jones County (Miss.) Junior College coach Steve Buckley, Kinlaw flourished both academically and athletically, enough to regain the chance to play at the FBS level. He once again honored his commitment to the Gamecocks and headed to Columbia to play under Will Muschamp.
According to Muschamp, in this piece from Greenville News, Kinlaw’s transformation has inspired all of those around him:
“Sometimes a young man just needs an opportunity, needs somebody to believe in him,” Muschamp said. “I’ve seen a guy mature tremendously, a young man that’s been through some tough situations and continues to fight and persevere. He’s an example for us all.”
The first thing you notice when putting on the tape of Kinlaw is his Madden Create-A-Player-esque size. At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Kinlaw has the ideal build and length (over 34-inch arm length) for an interior prospect that will have teams coveting him on draft day. He isn’t just a “Looks Good Getting off the Bus” player, either, and puts that frame to use in a number of different ways on the field.
It doesn’t take long watching Kinlaw to see the type of raw power and strength he possesses, as shown in this rep against Alabama last season:
As seen in the clip above, Kinlaw has the ability to play through opposing linemen with ease due to the strength of his bull rush.
But that isn’t the only tool in his bag of tricks. Later in the same game, Kinlaw arrives in the backfield with his agility and hands after beating the opposing lineman’s attempt at a reach block. Even though the play doesn’t go to that side, it’s a testament to the type of disruption that he can provide so quickly off of the snap.
In fact, Kinlaw’s quickness at the snap sometimes makes it feel like he knows the snap count better than the opposing offensive line in certain reps (though I didn’t hear the banging of a trashcan in the background of any of his game tape, which is definitely a positive). He knows how to explode through his lower half and uses his length well to ragdoll linemen into going wherever he feels like taking them.
He showed as much last week early on at the Senior Bowl, where his buzz seems to have cemented himself among the top half of the first round:
— Austin Silvey (@SilveyESP) January 25, 2020
Overall, the flashes (quickness, hand use, power) are present in spades and makes it easy to see why teams will be eager to develop Kinlaw at the next level.
It really is difficult to pick out significant weaknesses in Kinlaw’s game, as much of it feels like it can be corrected, or at the very least improved, once he reaches the next level.
One thing that sticks out is his struggles when taking on double teams, as this rep in the Clemson game illustrates:
In these situations, Kinlaw can have a tendency to play too high and unnecessarily turn his pads perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. As a result, he loses gap integrity and doesn’t keep his eyes in the backfield to be able to diagnose where the play is going.
It’s unlikely that he will be double-teamed at remotely the same rate as he was during his time with the Gamecocks, but tendencies such as these could certainly make it easier for opposing coaches to scheme against him if they aren’t corrected.
Despite the power he possesses, he remains somewhat tight in the hips and struggles to change direction or break down once he finds himself on the winning end of a pass rush rep. With the number of athletic quarterbacks in the NFL today, there’s a chance that turning these pass rush wins into sacks will be a struggle during his first couple seasons at the professional level.
Kinlaw is the definition of a “checks all the boxes” first-round defensive line prospect who reminds me a bit of current Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris Jones. He has size, quickness, and remarkable raw power, not to mention an inspiring off-the-field story, whose ceiling will undoubtedly land him in the top half of the upcoming draft. At the Combine, expect him to be near the top of his position group in the 10-yard split and Bench Press. Teams like the Colts, Panthers, Raiders and Cardinals are all teams that could look to add Kinlaw to the fold in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Even more important than his play on the field, he’s simply a kid worth rooting for given what he’s endured in his life to get to this point.
While there are aspects of Kinlaw’s game that could make it a more difficult transition to the NFL than some expect, he has all of the tools to become one of the NFL’s elite defensive lineman by the end of his third season.
Draft Diagnosis: First round, picks 10-15.