No. 3: DT Javon Kinlaw
Right off the bat let’s be clear: the expectation here isn’t the 49ers’ first-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft is immediately Buckner.
The former 49ers’ defensive tackle wasn’t even himself during his rookie season, although he was quite good and consistent throughout his tenure in San Francisco.
Instead, Javon Kinlaw must do his job effectively enough to make certain that other members of the defensive line — like defensive end Arik Armstead, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford — can do their jobs without worrying about whether Kinlaw is keeping up.
In that light, expectations will still be high for the former South Carolina standout, but it doesn’t mean that he needs to go out and rack up massive sack numbers and win Defensive Rookie of the Year to be a success.
Buckner was good as a rookie, snagging 73 tackles, 18 quarterback hits and six sacks on a really awful 49ers team under one-and-done head coach Chip Kelly. But that team was supposed to be bad and nobody was expecting the former Duck to turn them into contenders.
In Kinlaw’s case, while the 49ers are contenders heading into his rookie season, there is a lot of talent around him, including those mentioned above and others like linebackers Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw, not to mention cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.
In other words, Kinlaw will need to step up enough so as not to be a massive hole in the 49ers defense, and his role is vital to the success of all those mentioned above.
With all the good players all along the defense, that should be something he’s more than capable of handling during his rookie season.