USC Gamecocks Football

He’s South Carolina’s most decorated defender, but is he a little underrated?

Coming into the 2019 season, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw has a case as the Gamecocks’ most decorated returning defender.

In preseason teams from CFN and Phil Steele, Kinlaw was either a first-team All-SEC player or a borderline All-American. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder is an explosive presence on the interior defensive line.

But is he also a little underrated?

Athlon Magazine put Kinlaw among its Top 50 Underrated Players for 2019. Other SEC players such as Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden and Tennessee’s Ty Chandler also made the cut.

“South Carolina fans know all about Kinlaw,” Athlon’s Steven Lassan wrote. “But the senior is likely to raise his profile on a national level with a huge senior year. The South Carolina native recorded 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles for a loss in 2018. He’s one of the league’s top interior defenders going into 2019.”

Those 4 1/2 sacks were just outside the top-20 in the SEC. That tackle for loss numbers were right there as well. And that’s in a season when Kinlaw got dinged up early on and was nursing a hip injury most of the way.

Kinlaw committed to Will Muschamp’s first class in 2016, but had to spend a year in junior college. He was 340 pounds when he arrived on campus, but dropped to around 300 by the middle of the season, emerging as a starter in 2017.

He turned down the NFL draft this offseason.

If things go to plan for USC, Kinlaw should have a lower workload than he did this past season. Injuries along the line ate into the depth (often moving swing lineman Keir Thomas outside), and Kingsley Enagbare and Rick Sandidge were true freshmen backing him up. Now the team has Sandidge, Zacch Pickens, Devontae Davis, Tyreek Johnson and several big ends that can slide inside behind Kinlaw and Kobe Smith.

South Carolina’s season opens Aug. 31 against UNC in Charlotte.