For the better part of two years, 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw has been a disappointment, but that trend needs to change in 2022.
There were flashes the San Francisco 49ers were getting some special out of then-rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw back in 2020.
Despite a slow start, Kinlaw finished his first-year campaign on a high note, intercepting then-Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff for a pick-six touchdown in what became one of only six wins the Niners had in an otherwise frustrating season.
Entering 2021, the No. 14 overall pick from the previous year’s NFL Draft was expected to make a massive leap from year one to year two. But chronic knee issues ultimately led to him undergoing season-ending surgery after just four games played.
If there’s a trajectory for Kinlaw’s career, it’s not pointing in the direction of him being a cornerstone player.
Heading into 2022, though, Kinlaw will receive another shot. And it’s not just San Francisco giving him the opportunity because of his prior first-round draft status. The 49ers legitimately need Kinlaw to step up in a big way.
49ers need Javon Kinlaw to make up for D.J. Jones’ departure
A key reason why the Niners didn’t sorely feel Kinlaw’s loss last season was due to nose tackle D.J. Jones, who assumed more than just run-stopping 1-technique duties in his best year as a pro in 2021.
Jones as a major reason, San Francisco’s defense finished No. 7 overall against the run, allowing just 4 yards per attempt, and it surrendered less than 100 yards just once (Week 13) from Week 9 through the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
Kinlaw, whose pass-rushing prowess was never fully revealed during his rookie season, was nevertheless an important run-stuffing contributor his first year as a pro. And while the 49ers would want more out of Kinlaw, particularly in the scope of collapsing pockets and opening up more chances for outside pass-rushers, him being able to adequately replace Jones is of the utmost importance.
Can 49ers rely on Javon Kinlaw to stay healthy?
Kinlaw might never fill the shoes of the player he was intended to replace, now-Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, whom the Niners traded off early in 2020 and acquired the draft pick used to select Kinlaw.
Still, the biggest bane to the former South Carolina Gamecock’s career has been injury issues, primarily with his knees, yet the hope his most recent surgery cleared that up.
Earlier this offseason, head coach Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area that Kinlaw was “the healthiest I’ve seen him since he’s been here.”
That’s potentially good news. But it’s also coachspeak, the kind of statements you’d want from the top man on San Francisco’s coaching staff during the offseason when hope is endless. Yet there are still encouraging signs from Kinlaw, too, including a recent workout video from outside Levi’s Stadium posted on his Instagram.
Again, hope. But that’s it for now.
In total, and following two years after him being drafted, Kinlaw has appeared in 18 games and has made 41 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. It’s not exactly the kind of production for which one would hope out of a top-15 NFL Draft selection.
However, fans have yet to see Kinlaw fully healthy either, and the hope is a 100-percent Kinlaw would finally be able to reveal the kind of prowess that drew the 49ers towards selecting him so prominently two offseasons ago.