No. 3: 49ers Defense Needs Javon Kinlaw to Eat Up Interior Runs
One of the elements that made DeForest Buckner so potent was his ability to be an every-down player right out of the gate. This was due to both his run-stopping and pass-rushing abilities, which never sloughed off despite up-and-down sack totals.
Buckner posted a Pro Football Focus run-defense grade below 70 just once in his career, and that was back during his 2016 rookie season.
While known for his pocket-wrecking abilities, Kinlaw is plenty good a run stopper, too. SB Nation’s Stephen White had the following to say about Kinlaw’s efforts against the run:
"I don’t want to gloss over the work Kinlaw put in as a run defender. That guy has explosive power on the field and he has no problem making plays against the run. At that weight, you might expect Kinlaw to just be a guy who holds up blockers so the linebackers can make plays, but he is so much more than that. With arms that stretch 35 inches long (!), he can jack up blockers when he is single-blocked, then easily toss them out of the way so he can make the play his damn self. Yeah, he can be a two-gap guy, but he can also be a penetrator back into the backfield."
While Kinlaw never registered more than six sacks in a single season, the fact he had 15 tackles for a loss the past two years is noteworthy.
San Francisco’s switch in 2019 to a wide-9 alignment, spreading out the D-line, puts more pressure on a player like Kinlaw to eat up blockers and make plays at the line of scrimmage against interior runs. Even though other teams in the NFC West, such as the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals, practice more outside runs, Kinlaw’s interior run-stopping ability will be necessary to ensure he’s not the liability on the ground.
At least at the college level, it was a great strength. That’s a good thing.