INDIANAPOLIS -- Stopping the run was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ biggest problem on defense last season. Without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus available to fix the issue, addressing the interior defensive line must be a priority this offseason.
There are two intriguing options if the Jaguars decide to do it with the No. 9 pick in the first round of the NFL draft: Auburn’s Derrick Brown and South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. At least one -- and possibly both -- might be available when the Jaguars are on the clock.
Brown is generally regarded as the higher-rated player, mainly because of his pass rush but also because he played various spots along the defensive front for the Tigers. The Jaguars need upgrades at nose tackle and defensive tackle and Brown has the ability to switch between both spots. He also can play outside at times -- that versatility would be a bonus for a defensive front that might be without end Yannick Ngakoue, who could be traded or hold out if he’s unwilling to play on the franchise tag.
“We didn’t really have [set] positions,” Brown said of Auburn's defensive front. “We played all the way from the zero to the 5 [technique], and coach mentioned we had to be versatile at every position.”
Brown had four sacks and 54 tackles (11.5 for loss) last season, which led to his being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was a unanimous All-America selection, which means he made all five of the major All-American teams (Walter Camp, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, Sporting News and American Football Coaches Association).
One of his best games of the season came against Florida; he dominated the Gators’ offensive front with a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, including one he nearly returned for a touchdown.
That kind of disruptive play earned him comparisons to former Auburn standout Nick Fairley, who dominated Oregon’s offensive line in the Tigers’ victory in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2011 (five tackles -- three for loss -- a sack and a forced fumble).
Brown’s monster senior season came despite getting double-teamed for what he said seemed like every snap.
“Pass, run -- it was a double-team frenzy when it came time to play against us,” he said. “And that was my job. That’s what I was supposed to be doing in the defense, be able to help other guys be better. So that’s what I did, tried to do my job at the highest level that I could.”
Dareus was good at that as well, and it’s one reason the Jaguars were so much better against the run when he was on the field. Since the start of the 2017 season, the Jaguars gave up 109.1 yards per game rushing with Dareus in the lineup (30 games) and 153.2 yards per game rushing when he was not (18 games, including the first seven of the 2017 season, when he was with the Buffalo Bills).
Brown said he values playing well against the run as much as he does rushing the passer.
“I think just being able to knock back the line of scrimmage and create pressure that way, but also be able to play the run and create that knock back" is his best asset as a defensive lineman, he said.
Like Brown, Kinlaw also played every spot along the defensive front. But the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kinlaw, who had six sacks and two forced fumbles with the Gamecocks in 2019, wasn’t earning as much attention as Brown until his dominant performance during Senior Bowl practices. ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay was impressed and shared his views on SportsCenter: “If God was going to make a defensive lineman, it’s this guy. It took 48 hours for him to just show every NFL GM, every NFL coach, ‘I’m the guy.’”
It’s hard not to be impressed with Kinlaw because of how he overcame growing up "pretty much homeless, living in basements."
He struggled with school and truancy and dealt with a fractured relationship with his father before finding his way at Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College and eventually South Carolina.
He admitted at the combine that he's awestruck by how far he has come and he's not going to waste the opportunity that he has worked so hard to gain and will approach his NFL career with the same toughness and commitment.
“There is a God, man, for sure,” Kinlaw said. “With the position I was put in, I shouldn’t even be here right now. I take it serious. I never take it for granted being here. I’m soaking it all in. Looking around. I can’t believe I’m really here because I’ve been through so much just to get to this point. I love it.”
Kinlaw knows he’s raw as a pass-rusher, saying his go-to pass-rush move is to “put my face in your chin.” He’s eager to get some guidance, and there’s no doubt the Jaguars would tell him to do what rookie defensive end Josh Allen did last season: attach himself to Calais Campbell.
“I haven’t even scratched the surface to my pass rush,” Kinlaw said. “A lot of the times, I’m just out there bull-rushing, just walking guys back. So once I get that right coaching, the sky is the limit."