The 49ers received promising play from their rookie defensive tackle, Javon Kinlaw, in 2020. But in order to turn the page, he’ll have to improve in some spots.
And right away, Kinlaw was under immense pressure to pick up where Buckner left off, filling a major void vacated by one of the league’s best interior defenders.
By most accounts, Kinlaw held his own his first year within the pros. While it took him a while to truly impact the stat sheet, one does have to account for the relatively unfair expectations placed upon him in the wake of last year’s Buckner trade while also admitting Kinlaw wasn’t aided by the sheer number of injuries the Niners defensive line suffered over the course of his first year.
Despite those challenges, Kinlaw was still able to put forth a quality rookie campaign, registering 33 total tackles (11th best on the defense) while also adding 1.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and even an interception returned for a touchdown.
Not surprisingly, those showed up in Kinlaw’s rookie-year highlight reel:
Heading into year two, though, Kinlaw’s expected levels of production are going to increase. True, he’ll be aided by a reinforced defensive line, which will include the return of EDGE Nick Bosa from a nearly year-long absence because of an ACL tear. San Francisco’s free-agent pickups of interior defensive linemen like Zach Kerr and Maurice Hurst should also serve to keep Kinlaw fresh, too.
Yet in order for Kinlaw to take those very necessary steps towards becoming a top-caliber defensive lineman, he’ll have to show improvement in the following areas.