Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk will define SF 49ers 2020 NFL Draft

Javon Kinlaw #DL14 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Javon Kinlaw #DL14 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers aren’t getting too much production from the back end of their 2020 NFL Draft class, meaning Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk must deliver.

The SF 49ers‘ 2020 NFL Draft class probably isn’t going to wind up being like the previous three other draft classes put together by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan where at least one player selected on day three of each draft played a significant role in the team’s success and growth.

In 2017, it was tight end George Kittle, of course. 2018 provided safety Marcell Harris and wide receiver Richie James, while 2019 allowed for the budding development of linebacker Dre Greenlaw.

Kittle, James and Greenlaw all shined in their respective rookie training camps. But so far in 2020, first-year rookies — offensive lineman Colton McKivitz, tight end Charlie Woerner and wide receiver Jauan Jennings — have been anything but consistent. McKivitz has had his moments, yes. But he’s also been out-leveraged and overpowered by stronger NFL linemen more often than not. Woerner has shown he’s a great blocker, but his route-running skills are paltry.

And Jennings, despite his physical prowess, hasn’t exactly separated himself from the back end of the wide receiver depth chart.

True, the lack of minicamps and OTAs because of the global pandemic has cut into each rookie’s development, and it’s understandable why less-polished draftees may take a bit more time to develop.

Yet with the Niners’ Super Bowl window open now, the probable lack of serious contributions from the back end of the SF 49ers’ 2020 draft class puts a great deal of pressure on Lynch’s top-two selections, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

SF 49ers’ 2020 NFL Draft class will be defined by Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk

San Francisco might have whiffed on its day-one selections, defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster, in the 2017 NFL Draft. But Kittle more than made up for those gaffes.

The reverse needs to be opposite in 2020, however, as it’s pretty clear both Kinlaw and Aiyuk have some pretty big shoes to fill. Kinlaw is the shoo-in replacement for the Pro Bowler the 49ers traded away this offseason, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, while Aiyuk is pegged to be the No. 2 option to complement presumed No. 1 wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the wake of Emmanuel Sanders hitting free agency.

Aiyuk was a star in training camp, dazzling coaches and the media with some savvy route-running abilities and quickly earning the trust of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Unfortunately, a hamstring injury prematurely ended Aiyuk’s camp, meaning he’ll be that much less refined by the time Week 1 rolls around on Sept. 13. The expectations for Aiyuk are still awfully high, though, yet no position commands more attention to detail in Shanahan’s offense than wide receiver.

Needless to say, Aiyuk has a lot riding on his shoulders.

Kinlaw, meanwhile, has shown to be more of a work in progress than an immediate-standout player. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rare are the first-year players who enter the league and appear to be perennial Pro Bowlers right out of the gate, even Round 1 selections. So, whereas Kinlaw thrived on his sheer strength at the college level at South Carolina, fine-tuning his skill set and getting technique down as an interior pass-rusher will be something he needs to work on in coming weeks.

And that could ultimately take some time, especially with the lack of spring workouts.

Given San Francisco’s current situation, both in terms of its Super Bowl window and the transition from a predominantly young roster to one with many players hitting their second contracts, both Kinlaw and Aiyuk need to be the centerpieces of the next generation of up-and-coming Niners players.

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Lynch, Shanahan and the rest of the squad are counting on it for 2020 and beyond.