49ers training camp: Javon Kinlaw will take time to develop

Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

Brandon Aiyuk has been stealing the show at 49ers training camp, yet the other Round 1 NFL Draft pick, Javon Kinlaw, is coming along a bit slower.

No, this isn’t a panic piece about San Francisco 49ers training camp. We’re not here to say the team’s top pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, is quickly heading towards the “bust” moniker after only two weeks of 49ers training camp.

Kinlaw, of course, was one of two rookies the Niners selected in Round 1, the other being Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. So far, despite what’s hopefully a minor hamstring injury, Aiyuk has been the rookie star of the show, flashing excellent route-running abilities and quickly developing a rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

San Francisco has some question marks at wide receiver, so perhaps Aiyuk’s added attention is a bit biased. Kinlaw, meanwhile, is mixed in along with other players amid a star-studded defensive line, and other linemen like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have commanded much of the attention here.

Still, Kinlaw has taken a little bit of time adjusting to his pro counterparts during 49ers training camp.

At least according to this report from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn:

"It was rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw — a first-round pick — versus rookie guard Colton McKivitz — a fifth-round pick. They faced each other back to back during a one-on-one pass-rush drill.Kinlaw was supposed to win — he has replaced All Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the 49ers defense. Kinlaw is supposed to start as a rookie and contend for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, which Nick Bosa won last season. Lots of pressure on Kinlaw.And no pressure on McKivitz. He’s a fifth-round pick — he can be a backup his entire career. If he becomes a starter, he will exceed expectations.So that’s the background.When McKivitz and Kinlaw faced each other the first time Saturday, Kinlaw tried to do a quick move to the inside, but McKivitz blocked it. He stood up Kinlaw — just stopped him. Impressive, considering how huge Kinlaw is."

That’s just a single one-on-one rep, although numerous other reports have cited how Kinlaw isn’t wowing scouts or the media out of the gate like Bosa, the team’s top pick from 2019, did a year ago at this time.

But that’s OK. Remember, this isn’t a panic-button piece. It’s way too soon for that.

In college, Kinlaw was able to use his massive 6-foot-5, 319-pound frame to bully opponents’ blockers with regularity. That worked against NCAA competition, but mere bull rushes and overaggressive tendencies won’t cut it at the NFL level. Simply put, Kinlaw needs some refinement to fully grasp his true potential.

And it’s something the 49ers feel will come along here soon.

Robert Saleh is happy with Javon Kinlaw’s progress in 49ers training camp

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has worked with underperforming defensive linemen before. It took another first-round pick, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, a few years to find his footing after being selected in 2015. The 2017 selection of defensive end Solomon Thomas hasn’t reaped the necessary rewards.

Still, it’s silly to think Kinlaw was going to enter and assume the same kind of impact Bosa had from day one of his pro career.

And Saleh pointed out to reporters why he isn’t too concerned about Kinlaw’s development:

"He’s getting his feet under him. I think he’s trying to find his way. I think our offense is an S.O.B. to go against on a day in and day out basis with how fast and how physical they are. I think it is a shock to a rookie defensive lineman when they come in here and he’s going against guys like Laken Tomlinson and he’s got Trent Williams trying to reach him on the backside. He’s just got all this stuff happening to him, and [Mike] McGlinchey. Just all of them. It’s tough, but he’s coming along every day."

Translation: San Francisco’s offensive line understands just how talented its counterpart, the defensive line, was and is heading into camp.

Saleh added:

"As a rookie, he’s trying to figure out all that stuff and fully capable. But, it’s the intangibles that he’s got to work on in terms of just learning how to play football from a fundamental standpoint, where he can use that big body to just create even more power and leverage."

What this means is pretty basic: Kinlaw has the raw skill set and ability to be a dominant player in this league. He wasn’t anywhere near as refined as Bosa was entering the pro ranks, but that’s not too major a concern. The biggest factor is going to be improvement, which is something Saleh pointed out.

Fortunately, the Niners aren’t needing Kinlaw to be a massive impact piece right out of the gate, especially when looking at the team’s depth here along the D-line.

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Instead, they can afford to bring Kinlaw along properly and give him every chance to succeed while working on fine-tuning his raw prowess into something extra formidable.