Javon Kinlaw will have biggest impact for 49ers in 2020

Javon Kinlaw #3 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Javon Kinlaw #3 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

Javon Kinlaw will be the 49ers’ most-impactful NFL Draft pick from 2020.

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch was able to wheel and deal on NFL Draft day, selecting a total of five players with two being first-round picks. Shortly after the draft, the team announced the signings of 10 undrafted free agents to compete for roster spots for the defending NFC champs.

And with the ability of the 49ers organization to find hidden gems like tight end George Kittle and linebacker Dre Greenlaw, as well as having undrafted players like former 49er running back Matt Breida and current wide receiver Kendrick Bourne make significant contributions to the team, there is good reason to believe one or more of this year’s group of rookies can step in and play well.

While many in the fanbase are excited to see what wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk can do in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, the impact that defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw will have could very well be the difference between another deep playoff run or struggling to fill Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner’s huge shoes on the defensive front.

Typically, it requires a bit of time for receivers to acclimate to the NFL from college. One need only look at the learning curve that last year’s second-round pick, Deebo Samuel, had coming into the league. He had a period of adjustment in the early part of the season, but by the time Super Bowl LIV came around, he was one of the most important players on the field. His numbers bare out this progression. In the first nine games of last season, Samuel caught 22 passes for 227 yards and rushed five times for 37 yards. After Week 8, his numbers rose to 39 catches for 615 yards while rushing nine times for 122 yards. On the season, he combined for six touchdowns receiving and rushing.

So as you can see, as impressive as Samuel was on the year, his play steadily improved the more comfortable he got with the offensive scheme. But it took some time. And while Aiyuk will have his own learning curve, it may be an apt comparison.

Conversely, Kinlaw will more than likely start from day one, and while he adjusts to the league, he will see plenty of snaps from the get-go. He will also be surrounded on the defensive front line with guys like Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford who will draw double teams on nearly every down.

Kinlaw was not surrounded by that kind of talent while at South Carolina, so his opportunities for one-on-one matchups will surely increase. This provides an excellent opportunity for some explosive penetration and pressure from a 3-technique on the offensive backfield. And while Kinlaw is admittedly raw, his quick get-off and speed/power combination is already NFL-ready.

Kinlaw has already caught the attention of Greenlaw, who stated in a video call with Bay Area reporters on Wednesday:

"I think the way that Bosa came and played and showed his talent, I think Kinlaw can do the same thing and very well may be the defensive rookie of the year. I think he has that potential. It’s going to be exciting to be behind him and get a chance to play with him."

While Kinlaw will need to go prove it out on the field against NFL-caliber competition, that is certainly high praise from a guy like Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick last season who shined once given the opportunity.

And at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, it is not often Kinlaw is pushed off his spot, and he is powerful in run support in addition to his interior pass-rush prowess.

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Ultimately, even if Kinlaw needs time working with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to hone his pass-rushing ability on the NFL level, his size and ability to clog running lanes and gaps should allow this second-ranked defense from last season to continue operating at a very high level in 2020.

And if that’s the case, another deep playoff run could be on the horizon.