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Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 12: South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw

Eric Edholm
·8 min read
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Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

12. South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw

6-foot-5, 324 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.20 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Massive, powerful and long rusher capable of collapsing the pocket from several alignments, but upside contingent on cleaning up technical flaws.

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit coming out of high school, Kinlaw committed to the Gamecocks on Christmas Eve 2015 but was forced to take the junior-college route to gain eligibility. He spent one year at Jones County Junior College in 2016, earning second-team Junior College All-America honors with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in nine games.

Kinlaw then arrived at South Carolina in 2017, reportedly dropping more than 40 pounds, and playing in 13 games as a sophomore. He made 20 tackles (two for losses), three passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and one blocked kick in 10 starts (13 games).

In 2018, Kinlaw was named co-Defensive MVP for the team, making 38 tackles (10 for losses), 4.5 sacks, five pass breakups and one blocked kick. He missed the team’s bowl game that season following hip surgery to repair a torn labrum he played with through the season.

Kinlaw opted to pass up the NFL and return for his senior season in 2019. He was one of eight seniors in college football to receive a first-round grade from National Football Scouting entering the season and backed that up by earning first-team AP All-America and first-team All-SEC mention. In 12 games, Kinlaw made 35 tackles, six sacks and one blocked kick in 12 starts.

Kinlaw, who turns 23 years old in October, attended the Senior Bowl and dominated the first two days of practice before pulling out with knee tendinitis. He attended the NFL scouting combine but only participated in the bench press because of the injury.

Upside: Incredible mass and length. Great reach — 34 7/8-inch arms, 83 3/4-inch wingspan and 10 1/2-inch hands. Broad-shouldered, brawny frame. Absurd raw power.

Packs some stunning violence and shock in his hands. Explosive upper and lower body. Menacing combination of power to drive offensive linemen back and quickness to beat them off the snap. Flashes tremendous push-pull rush — stacks linemen and tosses them aside, using his momentum through for backfield disruption. Also a nice club-rip move with hesitation built in to mix it up, along with his go-to bull rush.

Much better tape than his stats might suggest. Lives in the backfield. Faced weekly double teams. Turned in a dominant performance vs. Alabama — continually flashed on the tape. Also ate up Mizzou and Texas A&M lines for lunch. Strong effort showed up consistently in 2019.

Affected mistakes with pressure. Gamecocks DB Israel Mukuamu was the one who ran back this pick six of Georgia QB Jake Fromm in South Carolina’s shocking upset last season, but it was Kinlaw who caused the interception. Watch him work the stunt game beautifully vs. two future NFL linemen, first shrugging off OG Ben Cleveland and then push OT Isaiah Wilson back with a pretty inside long arm:

Kinlaw's disruption forced this game-changing interception.
Kinlaw's disruption forced this game-changing interception.

Here’s Kinlaw absolutely bullying Bama OG Landon Dickerson back into the backfield, and then Kinlaw finishes it off for the sack of Tua Tagovailoa:

The strength and change-of-direction skill is impressive here.
The strength and change-of-direction skill is impressive here.

Offers position flexibility — scheme-diverse player who lined up everywhere on the front. Three career blocked field-goal attempts — gets great push and extension to affect kickers’ tries.

Has shown immense toughness and perseverance in his life. Has a 1-year-old daughter and has said he wants to be a provider for his family. Hit rock bottom more than once and picked himself up. Made the most of his opportunities when they finally came. A survivor with a rare edge to him. Teammates and Gamecocks staff praised his attitude and demeanor.

Downside: Plays too tall. Struggled to disengage in traffic at times. Unimpressive production — 10.5 career sacks. Didn’t get home quite enough — didn’t force a fumble in his final 21 college games and only batted down two passes last season, despite freakish length.

Could use a more detail-oriented approach. Technique escapes him at times. Will turn 90 degrees to the ball and lose leverage. Runs right into blocks at times, failing to work half a man effectively. Can take circuitous paths to the ball and overrun plays. Can over rely on upper-body power to push blockers.

Missed tackles show up — see opening game vs. North Carolina. Fails to wrap up with his massive vines and finish plays here and there. Wasn’t ever asked to drop in coverage — zero snaps in three seasons, per PFF.

Had a strangely ineffective effort in a loss to Appalachian State — lost his cool with an unsportsmanlike penalty and was barking to referees multiple times about missed holding calls. Mountaineers ran over his gap a few times in short yardage and double-teamed him effectively.

Kinlaw (lined up here at defensive end, at the top of your screen) also had a few reps where he dominated his man but lost sight of the ball and missed a chance for more disruptive plays, such as this one:

Kinlaw dominates his man but can't disrupt the pass.
Kinlaw dominates his man but can't disrupt the pass.

Can lose composure at times. Maturity is something NFL teams have questioned. Motor didn’t always appear to be revved up in past years. Scouts are asking: Will he be as motivated in the NFL as he was last season? Could require demanding position coach to keep fire lit. Left some teams with questions following their video interview process post-combine.

Health is a concern for some. Had hip labrum surgery in December 2018 after playing through the injury during the season. Weight and conditioning must be monitored closely — Kinlaw ballooned up to 347 pounds at one point in junior college.

Best-suited destination: Kinlaw played a lot over the center last season, which some scouts thought was out of position for him. His best work in the NFL might be done as a 3-technique, but his length, quickness and power also allow Kinlaw to line up pretty much anywhere depending on the front and personnel.

Among the teams we believe could have interest in his services include the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.

Did you know: We profiled Kinlaw’s hardscrabble upbringing, from lacking running water to losing the father figure in his life and the family home. It’s a story worth reading, we feel, just to see how far Kinlaw has come to reach his personal success.

They said it: “Keep your head up, man. Stop being so shy. Just talk to people. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Don’t be afraid. People probably pick on you because you ain’t got much clothes. You’re wearing the same clothes, but man so much so greater is heading to you man. Just keep growing. Keep being yourself. Keep being who you are.”

— Kinlaw at the combine, on what he would tell the 11-year-old version of himself

Player comp: Stephon Tuitt

Expected draft range: Top-20 pick, unless the medical concerns are greater than have been reported publicly to this point.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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