5 young SF 49ers players who look like emerging ballers

Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
1 of 5

The SF 49ers have a strong core of veteran players, yet these five first- and second-year pros appear as if they’ll be exceptional contributors.

SF 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch already went through the arduous task of building up a Super Bowl-caliber roster from the ashes of the 2-14 squad back in 2016.

Now comes the more challenging part: the ever-present turning over of that roster and constant influx of younger talent.

It’s one thing to build a championship-type roster. It’s entirely another to maintain it, and getting those younger and cheaper players on rookie contracts can be just as important as building around the established veterans.

Fortunately, the Niners have plenty of veteran talent already. Yet there have been transitions from the older vets to the younger options already. Case in point, San Francisco moved on from Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner last offseason and went with another first-round defensive lineman, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, in the 2020 NFL Draft.

While it’s still awfully early in Kinlaw’s development, the early results appear to suggest that move was the right one.

Kinlaw is looking like an early force. And he opens up the list of five players, either in their first or second year at the pro level, who are going to be integral pieces to the SF 49ers roster in the coming seasons.

No. 5: SF 49ers Defensive Tackle Javon Kinlaw

Let’s establish one thing first: Kinlaw is nowhere near as good as Buckner, at least not right now. San Francisco downgraded there at the start.

But Kinlaw, who has the potential to be a more physically imposing presence than Buckner, has already shone in the Niners’ opening three games of 2020. His traditional stat lines haven’t been overly impressive: five tackles and one pass defended. Yet that’s not necessarily the impact for which San Francisco is hoping.

Instead, Kinlaw’s presence needs to be a pocket-wrecking force. And he’s doing that already, especially against the run.

Pro Football Focus has already awarded Kinlaw with a solid 68.0 grade over those three games, split fairly evenly between his run-stopping and pass-rushing efforts. In college, Kinlaw’s pass rush relied heavily on his strength and little else.

In Week 3 against the New York Giants, though, Kinlaw flashed some excellent penetrative abilities to get behind the line of scrimmage.

Those plays go down as merely combined tackles. But their impact was far more important than what the stat sheet says.