MOBILE, Ala. – There is a pretty firm list across the board from draft analysts on the top defensive players available in this year's NFL Draft, and it features a lot of underclassmen. Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young is at the top of most lists, followed by Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah and Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is probably the best defensive player here at the Senior Bowl this week, and likely a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft. He's jockeying with Brown to be considered the best interior defender in the draft.
He's a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. He was certainly the winner of Tuesday morning's Senior Bowl weigh-in as an impressive physical specimen. He was a First-team All-SEC performer this past season with 35 tackles and 6.5 sacks playing along the interior.
Unlike most prospects in this draft, Kinlaw carries a motivation with him not easily dismissed or pushed aside.
He emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago, enduring homelessness and poverty along the way, needing a stop at junior college before his journey to South Carolina.
"Like, when I'm playing, I let it drive me," Kinlaw said of his circumstances growing up. "I just think about it so much all the time. I just let it drive me."
Kinlaw had a huge first day at the Senior Bowl, dominating the South Team practice, especially the defensive vs. offensive linemen pass-rushing drills. He showed off a powerful bull rush, but also quicker feet reserved for players much smaller than him.
"I've got a couple moves I want to show because people think I rely on my bull rush so much, so I want to show off a couple moves," he said Tuesday. "I just think I bring something different to the table. Just my body type and the things that I can do on that field is unmatched."
The Lions are coaching the North Team this week, but their personnel department will have a close eye on the South Team and Kinlaw. Detroit has the No. 3 overall pick, and will no-doubt be looking at some point to improve the 31st-ranked defense from a year ago. Whether they begin to do that with the third overall pick or the third pick in the second round or somewhere after that is yet to be determined, but they'll do their homework on Kinlaw and see where he fits into the mix.
"Really high-ceiling player," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said of Kinlaw. "Long, explosive, athletic, and he really played his best against good people this year. I was at the Bama game, he was great. Georgia, he was great. Those were his best games."
Lions defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels, Darius Kilgo and Jamie Meder are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. That could leave the Lions a little short along the interior of their defensive line. They could certainly find themselves in the market to add an interior defender to the mix at some point in free agency or the draft.
Kinlaw has drawn early comparisons to Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones (6-6, 310) because of his size, power and skill set. Kinlaw said he wants to be his own player, and has expectations of being one of the most feared defenders in the league.
"I'm just going to go in there and knock somebody back," Kinlaw said of his style of play. "That's the main thing. Try to knock a guy back. If I don't try to do nothing else, I'm going to make sure I knock somebody back. I just feel like I have so much more to prove, so much more to show."