One of the Buccaneers’ top priorities this offseason was keeping their front seven from 2019 together. They did a great job with that task, with only Carl Nassib walking out the door (for a hefty payday in Las Vegas, to be fair). Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are back to man the edges, while both Ndamukong Suh and Rakeem Nunez-Roches signed on for another year to join Vita Vea and Will Gholston on the interior.
Despite having some decent depth up front, might there still a possibility that Tampa Bay may want to use its 2020 first-round pick to shore up the interior for the long-term? If that’s a route the team wants to go, it should certainly take a long look at South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw.
Javon Kinlaw’s Collegiate Career
Kinlaw had a hard childhood, bouncing around from home to home all the way through his years at Goose Creek High School. He was even homeless at times as a kid. And by the end of his time at Goose Creek, he wasn’t going to qualify for a four-year scholarship anywhere because of his grades. So, during the spring semester of his senior year, he went to Jones County Junior College in Mississippi—a recommendation made to him by then-South Carolina coach Will Muschamp—to finish his GED and get a start on his associate degree while playing one season there.
After three semesters and the one football season, he was able to sign to play for Coach Muschamp at South Carolina. NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread wrote a detailed feature on Kinlaw’s journey, which is certainly worth a read. In the piece, Kinlaw said he wasn’t thinking about making it to the SEC. He was just happy to have somewhere to sleep and eat. If you don’t think his story is compelling after reading Goodbread’s feature, I don’t know what to tell ya.
Now, as for his college football career, he put together an impressive three years at South Carolina. After a pretty quiet debut season with the Gamecocks, he broke out in 2018, racking up 38 tackles (21 solo), 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and five passes defensed.
Then, as a senior in 2019, Kinlaw put up 35 tackles (15 solo), six sacks, two passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He was named a First-Team All-American by the Associated Press in addition to earning major team awards—the Tenacity Award (Defense), the Unselfish Teammate Award (Defense), the Most Productive Player Award (Defense) and the Joe Morrison Award (Defensive MVP).
His career with the Gamecocks was a successful one, and it set him up to be a top-15 pick in this year’s draft.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 324 pounds, Kinlaw certainly has impressive size. His strength and a strong first step give him the ability to effectively bull rush through blocks to collapse pockets on opposing quarterbacks. But what’s really eye-catching about him is his athleticism. You might not expect much speed from someone his size, but he moves with quickness that, when combined with his strong hands, makes him extremely difficult to block.
Here is every sack by South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw in 2019: pic.twitter.com/h5nNOtetDc— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 15, 2020
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com (who always does a great job with his draft profiles) points to “heavy, violent hands,” an “explosive first step” and “lateral quickness to beat reach blocks and spill it wide” as just some of Kinlaw’s strengths. Plus, he notes the big man’s positional and scheme versatility that could help him overcome what deficiencies he does have with his technique.
Similar to Tampa Bay’s Vita Vea, Kinlaw’s numbers in college didn’t exactly match how physically dominant he tended to be. But with that said, he did struggle to show consistency at times, as Zierlein noted in his profile. He said Kinlaw “looks great but lacks technique for consistency,” mentioning “inconsistent use of hands to control point of attack” and the tendency to struggle with holding his ground against down blocks as some of the prospect’s weaknesses.
I think it's understandable to question why Javon Kinlaw doesn't have more sack production, but also I studied 3 games and saw at least 10 plays that were THIS close to being sacks. Here's 7 of them: pic.twitter.com/utga9hzTPR— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) March 5, 2020
But of course, Kinlaw can overcome his technique issues, in some ways, with his size, while other problems can be addressed with some more coaching and developing at the NFL level. Plus, with the right team, he may be given some time to learn as a rookie instead of being thrust into an impact role right away (wink wink)...
Why The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Need Javon Kinlaw
Despite the return of Ndamukong Suh, adding Javon Kinlaw to the defensive line unit has to be a very attractive idea for Tampa Bay’s front office. Suh isn’t the pass-rusher he once was, but he’s still very effective against the run. On the other hand, Kinlaw has the necessary traits to be an effective pass-rushing tackle right off the bat and he could benefit from being worked into the rotation gradually so that he can develop and refine his technique under NFL coaching. Not to mention, he looks like the perfect player to pair with Vita Vea on the the defensive line for the foreseeable future.
But before we move on to how and why this pick might come about, let’s go back to Zierlein’s assessment of the young prospect. He says this of Kinlaw:
He can be a disruptive force along the interior with that explosive first step and freaky physical gifts, but utilizing his heavy hands and plus length as a read-and-react 3-4 end might allow for improved technique, control and consistency.
Reading that, it feels like Kinlaw is a perfect fit for the Bucs. That’s the role he would have in Todd Bowles’ system, plus Bowles is the type of defensive coordinator that will be creative enough with the potential abundance of talent to set up a rotation that works effectively. Vea at the nose with a combination of Suh and Kinlaw, Suh and Gholston or even Kinlaw and Gholston (when needed), sounds pretty formidable.
And before we go any further, yes, I know right tackle is a bigger need. But the top four offensive tackles in this year’s class are likely to be gone by the time the Bucs are on the clock at No. 14. So, from there, what do you do? There are definitely worse ideas than selecting a beast of a defensive tackle that can make an impact both in the short and long term for this team.
Should It Happen?
If the top four offensive tackles in the draft—Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills and Andrew Thomas—are gone by pick No. 14, I’d say yes in a heartbeat... if he’s still on the board, which might not be the case. Kinlaw would make the Bucs’ defensive line one of the top units in the league in 2020, plus the presence of a vet like Suh for his rookie season could help him take on even more of an impact role in 2021 and beyond.
If the Bucs neglect to add a long-term partner for Vea on the defensive line this year, they’ll be faced with a bigger task next offseason, when Suh and Nunez-Roches (who hasn’t proven to be more than a depth piece as of now) are both free agents again. Going with Kinlaw in the first round and then targeting Houston’s Josh Jones (either by trading back into the end of the first round or trading up in the second depending on the way the draft goes) sounds like an excellent idea, if you ask me.
But now that I’ve said my piece, we ask you, Bucs Nation. What do you think of Javon Kinlaw as a potential choice with the No. 14 pick in April? Be sure to vote in the poll and discuss your opinion in the comments down below.
How Do You Feel About Javon Kinlaw For The Bucs In The 2020 NFL Draft?
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