49ers roster: 5 players who must make massive leap in 2022

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 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 /

49ers roster player No. 2: Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw

2021 was supposed to be the year when the 49ers’ first of two first-round NFL Draft picks from the previous season, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, emerged as a bona fide force on the defensive line.

Kinlaw was unfairly given massive shoes to fill his rookie season in the wake of the Niners trading away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, thereby acquiring the draft pick used on Kinlaw. And while there were certainly flashes from Kinlaw in 2020, 2021 was going to be that year he took his own big leap.

Except for a knee injury, one which looked to be of the chronic variety, subsequently resulted in midseason surgery and a season-ending injured-reserve designation after just four games played.

Related Story: Javon Kinlaw knee issues cast doubts on 49ers draft process

San Francisco has both openings and a logjam along its D-line this offseason. Nose tackle D.J. Jones, such a vital piece of this unit, is a pending free agent and a high priority to re-sign. Yet the move of defensive tackle Arik Armstead inside opened up the full potency of the D-line in the latter half of 2021, and one would figure things stay the same way again in 2022.

Kinlaw could easily revert back to being Armstead’s teammate, and a good D-line rotation will be vital for the 49ers to maintain this level of prowess.

But, Kinlaw still has a long way to go before fully justifying the Niners using the No. 14 overall pick on him back in 2020.