Kiper: Kinlaw likely available at No. 9

Mel Kiper Jr. is seen on the set of ESPN SportsCenter, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Mel Kiper Jr. is seen on the set of ESPN SportsCenter, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

JACKSONVILLE – He has been linked to the Jaguars early. And often.

And as Mel Kiper Jr., sees it, there's a good chance South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw – one of his position's top prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft – will be available to the Jaguars with their first selection. Kinlaw at No. 9 overall?

Kiper, ESPN's longtime draft analyst, believes the Jaguars will have that chance if they want it.

"No. 9 is not too high to Jacksonville," Kiper said of Kinlaw Wednesday.

Kiper, speaking on a national conference call a day after releasing his third mock draft of the '20 pre-draft season, touched on many issues during an hour-long availability. But his first topic was Kinlaw, who some analysts consider the draft's best interior pass-rusher.

Kiper in his third mock released Tuesday projected Kinlaw to the Jaguars at No. 9 overall, later projecting Minnesota safety/cornerback Antoine Winfield to the Jaguars with their second first-round selection – No. 20 overall. Kiper had projected Clemson safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons at No. 9 in his February mock, having projected Kinlaw at No. 9 in his first mock – posted in January.

"He moves very well for a guy who's obviously going to be an interior presence," Kiper said of Kinlaw.

Kinlaw (6-feet-5, 325 pounds) was named a first-team Associated Press All-America selection as a senior, registering six sacks and 35 tackles.

"He has tremendous athleticism and I think that's what people want more than in any other time in football as we know it – interior pressure and a guy who has that versatility," Kiper said. "Kinlaw is a guy who produced against the highest level of competition. His tape is really good, and I think he'll benefit obviously as he keeps improving from NFL coaching."

Kiper said the feeling is that Kinlaw will be selected somewhere between the Jaguars at No. 9 and the Dallas Cowboys at No. 17.

"The range would be nine to 17," Kiper said, adding that he has Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown as the No. 6 overall prospect and Kinlaw at No. 14.

"He's solidly the No. 2 tackle, and he's not too far off in terms of grade," Kiper said of Kinlaw. "It's a slight edge."

Also on Wednesday:

*Kiper discussed Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who many considered the draft's No. 1 quarterback prospect until a season-ending hip injury. Tagovailoa is still considered likely to be selected in the Top 10, but NFL rules preventing pre-draft medical visits because of the coronavirus pandemic are expected to complicate how teams evaluate him. "The medical in Tua is going to be difficult, obviously, with the current situation," Kiper said. "This was a year where you would need all the medicals you can get, all the meetings (with Tagovailoa) you can get, all the things you need in terms of due diligence. You're not going to have that opportunity, so is a team going to trade up without that type of information? We'll see." Kiper said he doesn't anticipate a team trading to No. 3 or 4 except to take a quarterback. …

*Kiper called Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah perhaps the draft's two top defensive players. He also called Brown and Simmons two of the draft's most "NFL-ready" prospects, with Simmons at the top of the category. "You should expect everybody to be at least somewhat NFL ready the way the game's played now, but certainly Isaiah Simmons with the versatility he has would be the No. 1 guy on that list," Kiper said. "He can run, cover and get after the quarterback. He's the one guy you could highlight because he's so versatile." …

*Kiper said he hopes the draft will take place as scheduled on April 23-25. The NFL has announced that the event because of the pandemic will not be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, as previously scheduled. While the NFL's general manager subcommittee reportedly recommended to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the draft be postponed, ESPN reported Tuesday the league still plans to hold the draft on its original dates. "I would move forward with it," Kiper said. "Everybody needs normalcy to set in. … Free agency went among as scheduled, even though everything wasn't perfect and ideal. … The draft can be done, obviously, without having everybody together. No teams go to the draft anyway. Everything's going to be different. We have to adjust. There are a lot more important things going on, obviously, than the NFL Draft. Everybody's trying to deal with the health of their families and trying to get through this the best they can. I think the NFL can get through it. I think it's important to give people something to focus on and occupy their minds. That's kind of an escape during these trying times. I would think moving forward that April 23rd, 24th, 25th is something we're hopeful happens." …

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