Javon Kinlaw knee issues cast shadow on 49ers draft process

Javon Kinlaw #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Javon Kinlaw #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are already dealing with injuries to Javon Kinlaw after knowing these could be a problem when they drafted him in Round 1 a year ago.

San Francisco 49ers second-year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was supposed to make a massive leap between his rookie season in 2020 and this year, 2021.

If for no other reasons but to justify the Niners trading away the player they’ll face this Sunday in Week 7, Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and then using that exchanged pick to grab Kinlaw in Round 1 of last year’s NFL Draft.

In fairness to Kinlaw, simply replacing Buckner meant the former South Carolina standout had some awesome shoes to fill, and that wasn’t going to happen right away. Given the enormous implications of the trade, however, the pressure on Kinlaw was going to be that much anyway.

And a third of the way through his sophomore campaign, the problems continue to mount up, casting further shadows on the 2020 transaction.

Javon Kinlaw, 49ers again dealing with knee injuries

It was a setback San Francisco was already experiencing with Kinlaw to open up 2021. Kinlaw’s knee injuries, which accompanied him from college, forced him onto the inactive list in Week 1’s victory over the Detroit Lions.

And while Kinlaw has made returns to the lineup for each of the four games since, he’s been a regular member of the weekly injury report, frequently listed as limited in practice.

Now, heading into the 49ers’ Week 7 home matchup against those Colts, and following a two-week break in light of the bye, Kinlaw has been ruled out with his knee injury. And speaking to reporters after Friday’s practice ahead of Sunday night, head coach Kyle Shanahan noted that placing Kinlaw on injured reserve for a minimum of three games was a possibility.

Earlier in the week, Shanahan gave a not-so-promising assessment of how Kinlaw’s knees were holding back development:

"That’s a big concern this year and it’s nothing against [Kinlaw], but it’s been unfortunate with him. So, his development right now is on hold. I was real excited with how he started at the end of last year. …I thought he was starting to turn into that player and had a bad injury at the end that we thought would heal up fast. And it’s affected him all through this year. So that’s a setback now and that’s why he’s behind the eight-ball this year. But I don’t think his story is totally finished being written yet."

Over four games this season, Kinlaw has registered eight tackles and one quarterback hit.

Javon Kinlaw injuries should make 49ers question NFL Draft approach

It doesn’t take a lot to back up the statement the Niners have been one of the league’s most injured teams in recent years, including last year’s injury-riddled campaign that cost the team so many of its prized stars.

Surprisingly, Kinlaw was relatively healthy his rookie season, playing in all but two games and flashing some real prowess towards the end of the season, as Shanahan noted.

This year, however, those injuries haven’t gone away. And what’s been more frustrating is the fact San Francisco had to be well aware of Kinlaw’s knee issues from college, which included concerns about tendinitis and possible arthritis that could ultimately limit both his NFL-level effectiveness and long-term impact after being selected.

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

Nevertheless, in the wake of the Buckner deal, the 49ers drafted Kinlaw No. 14 overall after trading down one spot in the wake of receiving the 13th overall pick from Indianapolis.

Kinlaw and his former South Carolina teammate, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, have both dealt with significant injuries at the pro level after also dealing with them in college, too. And while it’s certainly foolish to assume players don’t avoid getting hurt, it’s also hard to ignore the reality some are more injury-prone than others.

In the case of Kinlaw, the returns so far haven’t come close to helping him turn into the pocket-wrecking force he was meant to be. And this latest setback is just another example of why the Niners have to be more careful how they assess draft talent moving forward.

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