49ers 2021 ‘Who is?’ series: Kevin Givens a DeMeco Ryans favorite

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Kevin Givens (60) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Kevin Givens (60) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Earlier this offseason, legal issues made it look like Kevin Givens wouldn’t make the 49ers roster, but that has since changed heading towards training camp.

While he’s anything but guaranteed to make the San Francisco 49ers‘ Week 1 53-man roster, third-year defensive tackle Kevin Givens‘ stock value is looking better than it was earlier this offseason.

This, for a couple of key reasons.

Back in March, Givens was charged for assault while back in Baltimore, which certainly didn’t improve still-tenuous chances of hanging around in 2021 despite a promising campaign on the field a year ago.

Since then, however, those charges have been dropped. That shouldn’t be an obstacle anymore.

But the bigger, more important reason why Givens’ stock value has seen an increase is because of first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who singled out the former Penn State nose tackle as one of the players on the ascent during offseason programs.

“I think when you talk about young players who are on the verge of breaking out, I look at a young guy like Kevin Givens and the way he’s been working,” Ryans said, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “It’s been outstanding to see him work. He’s getting better and better each day.”

Granted, a lot of this could be considered “coach speak.” But for Ryans to single out Givens, a pure role player, in such a positive way, that bodes well for his immediate future.

Why Kevin Givens improves with 49ers in 2021

After going undrafted in 2019 and subsequently signing with the Niners, Givens only briefly sniffed the field his rookie season and saw action in just one game.

In 2020, though, Givens took advantage of the sheer number of serious injuries the team suffered over the course of the season, landing a massive increase in snap count from just 10 his first year to 389 in year two.

And Givens made the most of his opportunities:

Kevin Givens Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/17/2021.

Those are impressive numbers for a reserve player, especially a backup nose tackle, and looking at how many plays took place behind the line of scrimmage suggests Givens doesn’t have too much issue creating havoc within the pocket.

Having just turned 24 years old, there’s a chance Givens winds up making a bigger impact as a rotational player this year, and he could certainly turn his 2021 campaign into one where a number of new career highs are set.

Why Kevin Givens regresses with 49ers in 2021

It’s one thing to be good on a banged-up and shorthanded defensive line. It’s another to solidify a role when many of those players return and are joined by other reinforcements.

The player Givens primarily replaced last year, defensive tackle D.J. Jones, is back on a one-year deal. And while San Francisco could still be eyeing Givens as a long-term, cheaper replacement, getting any extra snaps over Jones is going to be tough as long as everyone stays healthy.

Related Story: Kevin Givens might be a key piece for 49ers in 2021

This isn’t made any easier by the 49ers’ other offseason move, bringing aboard the impressive nose tackle, Zach Kerr, who could also wind up being the No. 2 depth piece behind Jones.

It’s possible, perhaps likely the Niners went after Kerr and re-signed Jones while not knowing what Givens’ legal outcome would be. With Givens not facing those charges any longer, he’s still looking at an awfully crowded nose tackle crop.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster, projected impact

Despite what Ryans said about Givens’ improvement, there’s no getting around the fact he’s squarely on the bubble heading into training camp.

The provocative part, though, is both Jones and Kerr are signed only through this season, whereas Givens is a 2022 exclusive-rights free agent, meaning he can only negotiate a new deal with the 49ers and will likely be a far cheaper option in the foreseeable future.

This could end up being a key difference in helping the Niners determine whether Kerr or Givens should be Jones’ primary backup in 2021, and there’s a good chance San Francisco elects to keep just one over the other. Not both.

Perhaps this is where Ryans’ comments come into play. If Givens is the player catching Ryans’ attention in the best possible way early, that could go a long way towards securing a spot on the 53-man roster.

Should that happen, though, Givens isn’t likely to be a primary player on the defensive line this season, as long as Jones stays healthy. Yet having a solid rotational option could be just as vital, and last year’s stats suggest Givens is more than up for the challenge.

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