49ers roster: 4 players who must dramatically improve in 2022 to avoid going bust

Trey Sermon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Sermon #28 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) Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 1: 49ers Defensive Tackle Javon Kinlaw

In fairness to second-year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the 49ers’ top pick from the 2020 NFL Draft and one who had enormous shoes to fill after the Niners traded away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner that same offseason, an injury-riddled 2021 campaign stunted whatever development the team was hoping to get out of the former South Carolina product.

All those injuries in 2020 effectively made Kinlaw one of the best defensive linemen for San Francisco a year ago, putting even more pressure on him than what was originally intended.

So, with so many bodies coming back this season, Kinlaw was hopefully going to turn into that pocket-wrecking force from the interior the 49ers were hoping to get.

After a promising yet so-so campaign his rookie year, Kinlaw was ultimately limited to just four games in 2021 before landing on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury. And while it’s hopeful he comes back better than before in 2022, the Niners have already made tweaks to their defensive line that have made Kinlaw somewhat expendable.

San Francisco moved defensive tackle Arik Armstead inside and received near Pro Bowl-caliber play from nose tackle D.J. Jones, too, helping cut down the team’s run-stuffing efforts to a quality 4.0 yards per carry, seventh best in the league, while the 49ers also finished tied for fifth most with 48 sacks on the year.

The Niners don’t have to give up on Kinlaw at all in 2022, and rotating players along the D-line is always a good idea.

But Kinlaw doesn’t seem poised to be a massive-impact player entering his third season.

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