The 2022 NFL Draft looks like it’s going to be a deep one along the offensive line.
That’s good news for a lot of teams around the NFL who, like the New York Giants, need to upgrade their blocking up front.
There are, of course, great players at the top of the draft. Players who we already know where they’ll play and we can be reasonably sure they’ll play well right away. But there are other players who should be good starters at the NFL level, but we just aren’t sure which position they’ll play at the next level.
Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard looks like he might fall into that second category. He has some impressive reps on tape and has a lot of traits that coaches will want to work with. The question is whether he is athletic enough to stay at tackle or if he’ll have to kick inside to guard.
Prospect: Darian Kinnard (70)
Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2020), vs. North Carolina State (2020), vs. South Carolina (2021), vs. Georgia (2021)
Games Played (starts): 39 (13 starts in 2021)
Best: Size, length, play strength, demeanor, run blocking
Worst: Foot speed
Projection: A starting guard with scheme versatility and potential tackle upside
(Kinnard is RT number 70)
Kentucky Wildcats right tackle is a big, long, powerful, experienced, and tough offensive line prospect.
Kinnard has a wide, thick frame with evident power in his upper and lower halves to go with long arms and massive hands. That power – and a nasty streak – is evident in Kinnard’s game as well, as he frequently moves defenders off the line of scrimmage and finishes with them on the ground.
Kinnard flashes adequate lower body flexibility, with the ability to be a “knee bender” and play with good hip and pad level. He is exceptionally hard to move when he plays with good leverage and has the ability to easily anchor against power rushers. Kinnard has solid lateral agility within a short area and is able to mirror most bigger pass rushers. He does a good job of using his length to his advantage and uses his long arms well to pass off stunting defenders.
Kinnard is a powerful run blocker who is able to execute man-gap, inside zone, and some outside zone blocks. He has enough athleticism to stress defenders laterally on most zone blocking schemes (particularly as the backside blocker). Likewise, he is able to move explosively downhill and bull defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Kinnard plays with an evident mean streak and was responsible for 30 “knockdown” blocks in 2021 and was considered to be the leader of Kentucky’s offensive line.
While Kinnard is athletic enough in a short area, his foot speed appears inconsistent over a longer distance. He can struggle to keep up with speed rushers on the edge, which leads to several problems. The first is, obviously, getting beaten to landmarks and giving up pressure off the edge.
Occasionally, Kinnard can allow his technique to suffer in attempting to keep up with athletic pass rushers. He can allow his feet to stop or legs to straighten, either of which compromises his leverage and can cause him to lunge at defenders. Kinnard’s hands can suffer when he stops his feet, with his arms drifting low and wide, and his punch becoming late or inaccurate.
Overall Grade: 7.05
That 7.05 grade isn’t a typo, mostly because Kinnard’s projection is a bit of a tricky one.
The totality of his tape shows some athletic limitations that created concerns in related traits. His play speed, pass protection on the edge, and play in space were all limited in his earlier tape. He did show improvement in his later tape, which is what makes his projection to the NFL murky, but not necessarily in a bad way.
It would be easiest to move him inside to guard and be done with it, and he certainly does have starting upside with scheme diversity at guard.
If we compare Kinnard’s earlier tape to his latest tape, it shows improved foot speed and greater short area quickness. He was listed at 345 by Kentucky but officially weighed 20 pounds lighter at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Schools often overstate players’ measurements, and it’s possible the reported 345 pounds was inflated. However, it’s also possible that Kinnard has put in work to improve his body composition and athleticism which finally paid off as a senior.
If that is indeed what happened, teams will need to project whether Kinnard will continue to improve his body composition and become more athletic. If Kinnard is able to improve his athleticism, or even maintain the gains he made as a senior, he could have the upside to remain at offensive tackle in the NFL, improving his value.
But it’s also possible that Kinnard just won’t ever be able to be the kind of athlete who can keep up with NFL speed on the edge. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t continue to try and work on himself – he absolutely should – and even just bringing the possibility of being a reserve tackle could be a boost to his draft stock.
Graded purely as a guard playing out of position, Kinnard’s overall grade would rise significantly and many of the concerns about him on the edge would vanish. The Kinnard we saw at the end of his senior season would certainly merit a solid Day 2 selection as a guard.
Right now, teams should probably look at Kinnard as a big, nasty, powerful, and athletic guard who can start in any blocking scheme, and might have the potential to start at tackle.