49ers roster: Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw chemistry a must-watch in 2021

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers never got to truly experience the defensive line tandem of Nick Bosa and Javon Kinlaw in 2020, but that’ll change this upcoming season.

We might be writing an entirely different narrative heading into 2021 if the San Francisco 49ers didn’t suffer so many debilitating injuries over the course of last year.

One of the biggest setbacks, of course, was watching EDGE Nick Bosa suffer a torn ACL in Week 2 against the New York Jets, eliminating the hopes for any massive leap from his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign back in 2019.

Along with fellow EDGE Dee Ford being out for almost all of last year, the loss of players like Bosa created increased pressure for then-rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

Almost by default, Kinlaw became the Niners’ best defensive lineman — a role he wasn’t quite equipped for, especially considering the NFL had cancelled offseason workouts in advance of training camp because of the pandemic.

So, not surprisingly, opposing offensive lines frequently doubled Kinlaw. The results, at least according to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner, weren’t overly impressive for the first-year pro:

"Kinlaw has just 1.5 sacks, which didn’t come until Week 10, and he’s struggled mightily against double-teams, winning his rush on 4 of 76 pass-rush reps against multiple blockers. Even when he’s seen one-on-one matchups, Kinlaw has struggled to identify play-action passes and quickly convert from defending the run to getting after the quarterback."

With Bosa back, though, the entire outlook should change a lot.

Javon Kinlaw, 49ers to benefit from Nick Bosa’s return

Kinlaw has yet to show he can win a lot against double teams. Bosa, however, proved he was more than capable of doing this back during his rookie season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa won his double-team blocks in 2019 at the fourth-highest mark:

Opposing offensive lines aren’t going to be able to afford letting Bosa have an extraordinary amount of single blockers this season, provided he’s back and fully healthy. So that means there’s going to be some sliding protection along the O-line.

If San Francisco elects to line Kinlaw up next to Bosa in pass-rushing sub packages, that’ll likely translate to more one-on-one rushes from Kinlaw, while Bosa should be expected to win a lot of those double-team matchups like he did in 2019.

Javon Kinlaw’s own improvement is crucial for Nick Bosa, 49ers

Kinlaw was widely viewed as extremely powerful and disruptive when he was drafted by the 49ers at No. 14 overall in 2020. Yet his technique, footwork and hand placement all needed refinement.

An abbreviated offseason last year prevented much of this from happening, and the slew of Niners injuries suffered along their D-line last year meant Kinlaw didn’t have the luxury of being eased into a featured role. Rather he was forced in and expected to deliver in a big way right away.

San Francisco spent a considerable portion of its offseason workouts honing Kinlaw’s technique, getting him to develop counters and finessing his already-powerful pass-rush moves.

Read More: 3 areas where Javon Kinlaw must improve in 2021

Bosa’s return ultimately means there will be less pressure on Kinlaw to make a substantial impact within the trenches. And while there are surely other players in the mix who’ll bear responsibility for getting the 49ers’ D-line back to the level it was in 2019, Bosa and Kinlaw should be the two primary players to watch here.

Essentially, their chemistry together could possibly create a “pick your poison” scenario for opponents.

Double Bosa, and Kinlaw’s second-year development should make him a force while Bosa can win those matchups. Double Kinlaw, and Bosa will feast on one-on-one matchups.

Provided Bosa stays healthy and Kinlaw starts to reach his highest potential, these two could end up forming one of the more formidable defensive duos for the foreseeable future.

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