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Defensive Linemen Derrick Brown, Javon Kinlaw Could Intrigue Cardinals

Interior pressure needs to improve in 2020

South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw listens during a press conference at the NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis on Thursday.
South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw listens during a press conference at the NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis on Thursday.

INDIANAPOLIS – Chandler Jones is one of the best edge rushers in the NFL, but ever since the departure of Calais Campbell following the 2016 season, he hasn't gotten enough interior assistance.

With Corey Peters and Zach Allen the only significant contributors under contract, General Manager Steve Keim will be busy re-stocking the defensive line this offseason.

While there are other needs on the roster, it is a position that could be addressed with the No. 8 overall pick. The top candidates are Auburn's Derrick Brown and South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw, a pair of players with intriguing physical traits.

"Any time you have a big body inside that can be disruptive, it certainly helps," Keim said. "Not only against the run, but we know that frees up guys like Chandler, gives them more opportunities on the outside. It all works hand in hand. Helps protect the linebackers – keeps people off them. I don't think you can have enough big bodies inside."

The position group took successive blows last season with the training camp releases of Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon, which is why reloading is so crucial. Brown is generally seen as the top prospect at the position, with NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah comparing him to Ndamukong Suh.

"That's who he reminds me of when you watch him on college tape," Jeremiah said. "So strong and powerful. He can really punch off blocks, separate, find the ball, make plays. He plays really hard. So he's outstanding. And when you plug him in there, you talk about immediate impact, he'll make an immediate impact on every single down as an interior player."

Brown could be picked as high as No. 3 in the draft, but it also seems possible he lasts until No. 8 if several quarterbacks go early. Brown elected to stay in school for his senior season and improved his stock by becoming more consistent.

He finished the year with 54 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and 11½ tackles for loss. Brown said teams at the combine have asked how they can be sure they will get the 2019 version, not his former 2018 self.

"That guy doesn't exist anymore," Brown told them.

While Kinlaw isn't as refined, his combination of length and natural ability makes for an enticing prospect. He had 35 tackles and six sacks in 2019.

Kinlaw took a different path to the NFL than Brown, who was a five-star recruit. Kinlaw had stretches of homelessness in Washington, D.C. as a child and didn't have grand gridiron dreams after high school.

"I didn't go to junior college for football, really," Kinlaw said. "I just went because I had somewhere to sleep. I had free food to eat. That's really why I went. I didn't really go with the expectation like, 'Man, I'm going to go to the SEC. I'm going to go to the league.' I went because I had somewhere to sleep."

Kinlaw gazed around the press conference room at the combine with a sparkle in his eyes, soaking in the moment.

"All the situations I was put in, I shouldn't even be here in front of you right now," Kinlaw said. "It's a big blessing for me. I take it serious. I'll never take it for granted, being here."

The Cardinals' interior pressure was inconsistent a season ago, which contributed to the woes against opposing passing attacks. In a division with Aaron Donald, Keim knows how integral it can be.

"Defensive line-wise, we just have to get better," Keim said. "We have to create more pressure, get stronger, more physical. I have a high level of excitement for Zach Allen. Corey is steady Eddie."

Keim acknowledged there are holes to fill, and has both free agency and the draft at his disposal.

It's easy to envision Brown or Kinlaw improving not just the line, but the defense as a whole. Brown noted that he was double-teamed constantly last season at Auburn, which opened advantageous matchups for others.

"If there's two on me, that means one of us is free," Brown said. "So somebody is about to come in and make a play."

Kinlaw loves the feeling of winning with a bull-rush move, something the Cardinals would certainly welcome if he joins the team.

"When you can take a man, and you know he's giving it all he's got, and you're still walking him back," Kinlaw said, "that's a very intimidating thing."

Photos of NFL head coaches and general managers at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis