49ers roster: 3 players who need to step up in a big way

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Javon Kinlaw, SF 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 3: 49ers Defensive Tackle Javon Kinlaw

Perhaps it’s unfair there were so many lofty expectations placed on then-rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw in 2020.

He was, after all, being asked to step in and fill the void left by Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. And as soon as the pile-up of 49ers injuries began, including losing fellow defensive linemen like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, Kinlaw essentially became the de facto No. 1 player within this unit.

As such, he commanded the attention of opponents.

Related Story: 3 areas in which Javon Kinlaw must improve in 2021

Based on the numbers, which included 1.5 sacks from Kinlaw and an opportunistic interception for a touchdown, Kinlaw was able to make a halfway-decent impact his first year. But the Niners need him to be a pocket-wrecking force, capable of generating pressure from within the interior while edge rushers like Bosa, Arik Armstead and Samson Ebukam are freed up in more one-on-one matchups with blockers.

If there’s good news here, Kinlaw will benefit from a relatively normal offseason, one which wasn’t present a year ago because of COVID-19, meaning he can hone his technique and sharpen what was otherwise a raw skill set coming into last year.

San Francisco will need him to do this if it wants its defensive line to emulate the success it had in 2019.