The San Francisco 49ers selected Javon Kinlaw with the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Kinlaw ahead of the draft.
What in the hell are they putting in the water these days? That’s what I gotta ask after watching tape on Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown and now South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw.
Back when I was playing, if you had a guy who was 6’5 and 320 pounds, you were more likely to find him at offensive tackle than anywhere else. If he was going to play defense, maybe you stick him in there as a zero nose to just eat up space. But 6’5, 320+ pound pass rushers?!
Where they do that at?
Evidently, the SEC.
All I know is being that big and that quick ought to be against the law. These two freaks of nature may usher in a new era of supersized defensive linemen who can do it all like we have never seen before.
While both Brown and Kinlaw were dominant as hell in college, and they are close to the same height and weight, Brown pretty much looks the way you probably expect someone who weighs over 320 pounds to look. Kinlaw, on the other hand, has a lot of weight in his legs, so his upper body looks more linebacker-ish.
I would compare Kinlaw to Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, one of my breakout players from last season, in terms of his build. Really, their games are pretty similar as well. However, Robertson-Harris didn’t even put on a lot of that weight until after he got to the league because he was an edge rusher at first.
It is just shocking for me to see guys that big be so skilled and successful at rushing the passer. But there’s more to Kinlaw’s game than that.
What Kinlaw does well: He’s powerful against the run
I don’t want to gloss over the work Kinlaw put in as a run defender. That guy has explosive power on the field and he has no problem making plays against the run. At that weight, you might expect Kinlaw to just be a guy who holds up blockers so the linebackers can make plays, but he is so much more than that.
With arms that stretch 35 inches long (!), he can jack up blockers when he is single-blocked, then easily toss them out of the way so he can make the play his damn self. Yeah, he can be a two-gap guy, but he can also be a penetrator back into the backfield.
I tell you what, it’s usually going to take more than one guy to block him, regardless. And even then, he might still make the play.
I also want to point out that Kinlaw is quick as a cat stunting laterally. That was something he did quite a bit in college, and he looked like a damn wrecking ball just blowing shit up. That is going to be something that translates well to the NFL, and I expect to see him playing in people’s backfields a ton on Sundays.
What Kinlaw does well: His pass-rushing prowess
Kinlaw’s technique overall wasn’t always on point, but his pass-rush moves were super crispy at times.
He has a lot more “wiggle” than you would expect from a guy his size, and I was impressed with the way he worked his hands, as well. Sometimes cats who are as physically commanding as Kinlaw tend to rely way too much on just their strength and athletic ability to win. But he not only has a decent array of moves in his tool box, he was also usually on top of the details of each move, even in close quarters.
He still hasn’t come close to realizing his full potential, though. That’s the scary part with Kinlaw. For as dominant as he was in college, if he continues to work his ass off in the NFL, he may quickly transform into a defender not many offensive linemen in the league can block one-on-one. And I mean from tackle to tackle.
Kinlaw moved around a little bit up front but he mostly played inside. I would’ve liked to have seen him out on the edge a little more. I definitely think he has the size and skills to be quite effective out there with just a little bit of work. In fact, I could see Kinlaw’s power giving offensive tackles fits once he learns how to harness it out on the edge. Unfortunately, I only saw him line up on the edge twice in four games, and on one of those, Kinlaw had a decent bull rush going but ultimately lost contain.
The kid showed me enough as an interior pass rusher that for now, I feel confident that he can at least get by with his bull rush out on the edge until he expands his repertoire as a three-technique. I have imagined the Incredible Hulk-looking joker crushing a left tackle with a long-arm move after he has perfected it, and it brought a really big smile to my face. Kinlaw is already going to be hell inside off the bat, but his development as a five-technique could really take his game to another level.
It isn’t a given that he will improve that much, but the potential is certainly there.
Where Kinlaw can improve: More consistent effort
I will say that for as much as I loved about Kinlaw’s tape, the one thing I was a little disappointed in at times was his effort. I grade pretty harshly when it comes to effort, but what made it so bad to me was it was such a contrast to the plays when he did bust his ass.
It’s one thing if he just didn’t know any better. But if I see you chasing a play 10 yards down the field in a full sprint, that is the bar you set for yourself with me. You might not always get up to the same speed every time, but it should be too far off of that pace.
And it for damn sure shouldn’t be a walk!
I’m just saying that Kinlaw is already a monster on the field, but if he gets that motor going a little more, that dude will be pretty friggin’ close to unblockable. I don’t do hot takes, so just know that I mean that and I said what I said.
As irritated as I was at some of those plays, his motor was still better than Chris Jones’ coming out. And we all saw what Jones was able to turn himself into over his first four seasons in the league.
Where Kinlaw can improve: Playing with better pad level
Another concern of mine is that Kinlaw got a little too high every now, especially as a run defender, which caused him to catch a few more L’s than someone with his skillset should have.
With him already being that tall, he has to overemphasize bending his knees and staying low anyway, especially when he’s playing inside. But he just made it a little too easy for the opposition at times by trying to pass rush on early downs, only to find out it was actually a running play.
That is something I see with plenty of college players, but for Kinlaw to truly be special, he needs to try to get that out of his system. Playing with poor pad level like that in the league will mean leaving plays out there on the field that he could’ve made. Plays that might affect the outcome of the game.
What makes sharpening up that part of his game complicated is teams don’t practice nearly as much in pads anymore in the league. You can do all the drills you want, but nothing teaches pad level like getting your ass kicked every day because you are coming off the ball too high against NFL offensive linemen. And Kinlaw isn’t getting any shorter, so something is going to have to give.
I will say I’m not nearly as concerned with his occasional pad level issue as I am with some of those loafs. Kinlaw is going to be a good player as long as he picks the tempo up a little bit, no question. Playing with better pad level could be the difference between good and greatness, but improving his motor could be the difference between staying in the league and falling by the wayside. There are too many cautionary tales about guys getting the bag and then shutting it down.
I don’t think that will be the case with Kinlaw, but it was a major contrast going from watching Brown busting his ass every play, and Kinlaw taking a few off here or there.
Kinlaw’s NFL future: Potential All-Pro
All things considered, with Brown having the decided edge in hustle and a moderate edge in technique, I would have to pick him over Kinlaw if both were still on the board. I have a feeling there won’t be a long wait between those two guys getting drafted, however. Both definitely have potential to be All-Pro players within their first three years in the NFL.
And truth be told, while Brown is starting off as the better prospect, I can’t say for certain it won’t go the other way once they get in the league.
If he gets in the right situation, with the right coaching, Kinlaw could be every NFL offensive lineman’s nightmare. And I literally mean “every” because I think he could line up anywhere and not only be effective, but dominant.
He is good enough to come in and make plays right away. But if he gets that motor of his to run a tad bit more consistently, and gets just a little more seasoning, you really might have to call the cops.
*Birdman hand rub*
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Kinlaw play against Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, and Clemson.