How each SF 49ers 2020 NFL Draft pick improves in 2021
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers received decent production from their 2020 NFL Draft class, namely their first-round picks. But how can the whole class improve in 2021?
Perhaps for the first time in the SF 49ers era under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, the Niners received some solid production from their first-round picks from the 2020 NFL Draft.
As one may recall, San Francisco grabbed two players in the round, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at No. 14 overall and ASU wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk at No. 25 overall. While the remaining three selections from the SF 49ers’ 2020 rookie draft class weren’t overly impressive, Kinlaw and Aiyuk certainly made their presence felt.
With the 2020 season fully closed in the wake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl win, the focus is now on how this rookie class transforms into second-year players. Indeed, 2020 was challenging enough because of the pandemic, which forced virtual offseason meetings instead of on-field practices like rookie minicamps and OTAs. That element, combined with zero preseason games to hone pro-level abilities, ultimately meant every rookie around the league was at a disadvantage.
Including Kinlaw and Aiyuk, although the latter didn’t exactly show signs of being a rookie.
Nevertheless, here are reasons why each member of the Niners’ rookie class from last year could end up improving in year two.
Javon Kinlaw gets help along SF 49ers defensive line
Kinlaw wasn’t going to immediately perform like the player he replaced along the defensive front, now-Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. That was an unfair assessment right from the beginning.
Early in the year, Kinlaw struggled with pad level and technique. And if the statheads were looking solely and Kinlaw’s sack numbers (1.5 over 14 games played), it would be safe to say he was a bust for a top-15 pick.
Yet Kinlaw isn’t going to be a pure sack specialist. The intention with him is to be a pocket-wrecking force, and he certainly displayed that late in the year as he progressed.
Injuries along San Francisco’s defensive line, namely to edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, meant Kinlaw almost became the team’s best frontline defender by default, frequently drawing multiple blockers and preventing him from impacting the stat sheet.
While Ford’s future remains unknown, the return of Bosa from his 2020 ACL tear should take a lot of pressure off Kinlaw.
Add to that a full year of development and a true offseason program, there are plenty of reasons to believe the SF 49ers’ top pick from last year’s draft emerges as a true impact player in 2021.