If one were to ask South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw why some scouts could doubt him, this is precisely what we would respond with – show them the tape. He did on Monday evening during the opening press conference at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
“I personally think stats aren’t anything,” Kinlaw said. “If you just go sit down and watch that tape, it’ll speak for me.”
In a room full of reporters, Kinlaw commands the attention. Even the likes of Jalen Hurts –the begotten son of the “Yellowhammer State” is fixed in the corner, watching as the former Gamecock admits an aura of confidence and poise. Kinlaw cracked a smile, knowing the floor is his to control.
From a struggling childhood to now at the beginning steps of his NFL career, Kinlaw has enthralled the members found in the Renaissance Riverview Hotel in the heart of Mobile. A bright future in the foreground, that’s where his attention has gone.
And in one interview, the South Carolina star has left his mark on Senior Bowl early.
“Really outside of (Oregon’s) Justin Herbert, Kinlaw is the top-rated guy for us at this game,” Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy said. “He’s a really explosive guy. He’s just scratching the surface.”
oh my god, javon kinlaw pic.twitter.com/O5K389DdOd
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 21, 2020
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Kinlaw’s battles in the trenches began long before his time in Columbia. When moving to the state, his family would endure a period of homelessness; he would live with his mother, Leesa James, and two brothers in conditions that would make most feel small. Bouncing around from homes and basement, Kinlaw’s family would endure nights where even the basic necessities would be stalled.
“We had to use the neighbors’ bowls to fill up totes of water, and we would take them back in the house,” Kinlaw said of his youth. “We had gas – a gas stove we’d light with a little match. Get a tall pot, boil the water, mix it with some cold water, put it in a bucket, take it upstairs and take showers like that.”
The time in the dark molded Kinlaw’s spirt. Over time, his body would catch up in size. By the time he was 13, his six-foot-five frame toward over the likes of his classmates. Thus, the legend was born.
After he became a star in Charleston, Kinlaw began to receive offers from colleges across the nation. His grades would derail early plans to enroll at a prestigious university, holding him back due to the NCAA regulations. He would be forced to enroll at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.
In the midst of the move, Kinlaw felt homeless. Leaving the state, he called home for years; he wouldn’t find the cafeteria until well past orientation. Even then, Kinlaw never knew the meals were included in the plan.
“My first two days of juco, I didn’t even eat. I didn’t know where the cafeteria was,” Kinlaw said. “And I didn’t know it was free. Once I found that it was free, I was going crazy.”
Food fueled the beast. And the size only expanded in areas it mattered most. Growing to 347 pounds, Kinlaw became a sought-after JuCo product during the 2018 offseason. While other programs would offer, a call home from Will Muschamp’s staff brought a new and improved defender back to promise land.
OL vs DL drills.
John Simpson, Clemson vs Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina pic.twitter.com/vaXyvGl4xj
— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) January 21, 2020
During his junior season, Kinlaw played with a torn labrum. He was credited with 4.5 sacks, nine tackles for losses, and 30 total stops. Several scouts graded the behemoth defender as a first-round talent for the 2019 Draft, despite playing in only 10 games.
Kinlaw could have left for the pros. Instead, he focused on becoming stronger and building off a down season.
“I felt like last year I didn’t really accomplish anything,” Kinlaw said. “Honestly, this year, I feel like I didn’t accomplish much. I set my goal so high, like so so high, I didn’t even come close to what I wanted to be this year.”
While he might feel the success of the season, scouts have. Against Alabama, a team featuring five future NFL linemen, Kinlaw was near impossible to block. Against Georgia, a team credited for their development of producing NFL talent; he won over half of his battles.
A six sack season might seem small, but the production was met with sound praise from scouts.
“Javon [Kinlaw] is going to make some money down here,” One AFC scout told PFN. “His hands and size are one thing, but his ability to move off the line – you can’t teach that. You have it, or you don’t, and he does.”
South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw going through bag drills at the south senior bowl practice. Extremely physical player. #Jaguars will have their eyes on several defensive linemen: pic.twitter.com/4ugX8RQ82T
— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) January 21, 2020
Kinlaw’s presence with the media will win over scouts. It’s his on-field play that will decide how far he falls before someone makes the jump to the podium in Las Vegas. Each snap could see his stock rise while it also could fall.
For now, Kinlaw hopes his time in Mobile will prove that he belongs in the conversation as one of the top defenders in the midst of middle ground. A new father, he also hopes to show his daughter that anything is possible, no matter the challenges thrown in life’s way.
“I just want to show people that it’s OK to be a good father. These young fathers, I want to show them it’s OK. You don’t gotta be scared. You just gotta do what you gotta do. People are going to respect that at the end of the day.”
Mild-mannered with media, Kinlaw is far from the “Jane” narrative in his voice. If one doesn’t believe his soft demeanor won’t transfer to the next level – he already has the answer for your next question.
He’ll smile, crack his head to the side, and slow, in a deep voice that bellows through the halls of locker rooms or media meetings, he’ll tell you his thoughts.
Just show them the tape.
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.