The San Francisco 49ers, with the position that they acquired from the Deforest Buckner trade, selected DT Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina with the 14th overall pick. Niner Noise breaks down the selection.
The San Francisco 49ers were the first team in the 2020 NFL Draft to trade down, trading back a spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then selecting South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the pick they acquired. While the move down by general manager John Lynch was a savvy mood, selecting Kinlaw over the receivers available was a bold decision, one that won’t have an answer for a while.
The context surrounding the pick is important. The 49ers had to trade team captain and defensive stalwart DeForest Buckner to get the pick, so selecting Kinlaw provides an immediate replacement to the gap Buckner left.
Kinlaw is a physical specimen at defensive tackle, with the size, speed and power to wreck havoc on the defensive line. In Lance Zierlien’s scouting report of him, he cited “an explosive first step and freaky physical gifts” as the reason why Kinlaw was so highly vaunted. He has all the traits the 49ers would want out of their 3-technique.
The other thing about Kinlaw is how he would be elevated in the Niners defensive line. With all the attention on players like Dee Ford, Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, Kinlaw would have more opportunities and more space than in college to dominate. He offers the Niners a chance to keep their dominant pressure last year, arguably the primary factor as to why they made it to the Super Bowl.
On the 49ers, Kinlaw will likely slide right in as the starting 3-technique, the position that Buckner played last year, as part of the A-group of the defensive line rotation. He being drafted follows the trend of the 49ers selecting linemen with their picks – a tendency to build from the trenches.
It is important to note that Kinlaw comes with injury concerns; he suffered knee tendinitis while at the Senior Bowl and has a history of knee issues. The 49ers have had to deal with knee injuries on their line before with Ford, which can sap all the athleticism away from a rusher.
The biggest concern with drafting Kinlaw, though, has to be the idea of positional need. The 49ers may have had a Buckner-sized gap on the defensive line, but it was still a relative strength on the roster. Other positions like wide receiver were more pressing and were still stocked with high-end talent.
The pick of Kinlaw has to be weighed with further selections in the draft. Many people consider this draft to be insanely talented at the wide receiver position, with oodles of talent available in later rounds. The Niners must be banking on that possibility to acquire what they deem as equivalent or marginally worse talent at a much later opportunity. I recently wrote an article arguing against this line of thinking, citing the necessity to view talent objectively and not hunt for a bargain.
Overall, Kinlaw is a talented, yet slightly raw player. He has the potential to be a game-changer, a power on the defensive line equal if not greater than DeForest Buckner. However, his selection won’t only be graded on his own abilities. If the wide receivers the 49ers passed on turn out to dominate, no matter the talent of Kinlaw, it has to be viewed as a bad decision. If the 49ers manage to get a good receiver in later rounds that matches the performance of the first-round receivers, then the selection of Kinlaw was probably a good move.
It’s that simple.
The trade down by Lynch was phenomenal; the eventual selection is less likely to be the same. Like most things, context will be necessary, but right now, Javon Kinlaw has big shoes to fill – both to replace Buckner and justify his position. He has the talent to do so though.