49ers roster: 4 third-year players facing make-or-break season in 2022

Javon Kinlaw #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Javon Kinlaw #99 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. 1: 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw

Up to this point, we’ve primarily discussed backups and role players who stand a chance to carve out larger duties in 2022 but won’t necessarily be missed if things don’t pan out.

Such is not the case with defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the 49ers’ top investment from the 2020 NFL Draft.

Much has been said about Kinlaw already, how he was asked to fill some massive shoes in the wake of the Niners trading Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts not long before Kinlaw was drafted.

Sure, there were some positive moments from Kinlaw’s rookie year, including a rare pick-six interception (not common for defensive tackles), but a lot was left to be desired, too.

Except Kinlaw’s knee issues ultimately resulted in season-ending surgery after just four games, which netted him a mere eight tackles and one quarterback hit.

San Francisco largely absorbed Kinlaw’s absence for the rest of 2021, moving defensive tackle Arik Armstead inside and letting nose tackle D.J. Jones play a lot more on passing downs. With Jones poised to hit free agency, though, Kinlaw’s return could mean a lot about how poised the 49ers’ still-potent defensive line looks this upcoming season.

More importantly, the Niners will want to get some key ROI on their top investment from 2020, and that production has yet to surface.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 worst draft picks under Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch. dark