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View from the O-Zone: A day for defense

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – All impressed in their own way.

Isaiah Simmons. Derrick Brown. Javon Kinlaw. They're three of the 2020 NFL Draft's top defensive prospects. All have been mocked to the Jaguars at No. 9 overall in a slew of mock drafts peppering the internet. All spoke to the media at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine Thursday.

The star of the bunch Thursday?

Well, there really wasn't one star, but all showed what you want to see in combine podium appearances, which is to say, to show that they're confident and not overwhelmed by what is by definition an overwhelming process. Best quote? 

Maybe that went to Kinlaw, a defensive tackle from South Carolina who is one of this draft's best stories. Kinlaw was asked during his appearance his signature pass-rush move. His answer: the bull rush.

"I'm going to put my face in your chin and walk you back from there," Kinlaw said.

Kinlaw at 6-feet-6, 310 pounds is certainly capable of that, and he certainly overcame remarkable adversity to be here at the combine. Those who follow the draft likely know his background. He was homeless at various times growing up, and told reporters Thursday he originally attended junior college not so much for football but to have a place to sleep and eat free. He both informed and entertained Thursday, doing so with a compelling personality and at one-point elaborating on why he likes the bull rush:

"When you can take a man, and you know he's given it all he's got, and you're still walking him back, that's a very intimidating thing. … I love doing that — looking a man in the eyes and him knowing, like, he can't stop you."

Kinlaw unsurprisingly likes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – "he plays the game very violently, not sparing a soul" – and he wasn't alone Thursday in talking about power. Brown, a defensive tackle from Auburn and the consensus top player at his position in the draft, was asked his playing style.

"I try to impose my will on people," he said.

Brown is considered by some a possible Top 5 selection, and respected draft analyst Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network on Thursday raved about Brown on and off the field.

"I like Kinlaw," Pauline said. "But I think if Derrick Brown had entered last years' draft, he's a Top 10 pick. The fact that he went back and played – and played in the team's bowl game – as far as I'm concerned says a lot about the guy."

Of the few criticisms of Brown, one is that he preceded his dominant final season with an inconsistent one in 2018. Brown addressed that Thursday.

"That guy don't exist anymore," he said.

Pauline called Brown a true every-down tackle who can rush the passer and play the run – as well as make plays in space.

"I love watching this guy," Pauline said.

Scanning mock drafts, many have Brown selected before the Jaguars select at No. 9. Tough some mock drafts project him there, Pauline doubts Brown will slide so far. Many recent mocks have projected Kinlaw to the Jaguars. Pauline says he sees that as a bit early for Kinlaw, but noted that defensive tackle is a valuable enough position that Kinlaw absolutely could be selected in the Top 10.

Simmons, a safety/linebacker from Clemson, is another Top possibility – perhaps Top 5. He intrigues draft observers with uncommon athleticism and striking versatility, and is often described as a hybrid because he not only can play both safety and linebacker – but also because he lined up in college at every position except defensive tackle.

"My favorite roles? I like getting interceptions as much as I like getting sacks, so I don't really think I have a favorite," Simmons said.

Simmons on Thursday correctly said that while a decade ago there may have been questions about his lock of a "true position," the evolution of the NFL to a pass-oriented game is such that it now plays in his favor. 

"The name of the game is stopping tight ends," Simmons said. "Something has to be done to stop [Kansas City Chiefs tight end] Travis Kelce and [San Francisco 49ers tight end] George Kittle."

Simmons mentioned both Kelce and Kittle Thursday, and was asked if he indeed is the type of player to stop such high-impact tight ends.

"Absolutely," he said.

Who will the Jaguars take at No 9 overall? Two months from the NFL Draft is way too early to know, but these players without question will be discussed with the Jaguars often in the coming months. With reason. All make sense considering perceived need and projected ability.

In that sense, perhaps Thursday gave something of a first glimpse into the team's future. If so, all three impressed in their own way.

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