The San Francisco 49ers solidified their defense selecting South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the No. 14 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
It wasn’t an easy road for the 22-year-old. His family was homeless for periods during his upbringing, which shows what Kinlaw had to overcome to defy the odds and be drafted into the NFL.
The massive 6-foot-5, 324 pounds Kinlaw spent a year at Jones County Junior College before transferring to play for South Carolina in 2017. Kinlaw’s combination of quickness and strength has made him an effective run-stopper, who also finished with six sacks last season.
He is the fifth defensive lineman selected by the 49ers since 2015, where he’s expected to help fill the void left by DeForest Buckner’s trade. Lining up next to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead should help with that challenge.
General Manager John Lynch was open about his list of six players from the draft he feels are foundational pieces.
“Kinlaw was one of those guys,” Lynch said. “He was actually the first guy on our list that we would’ve taken at 13.”
This pick shows Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are on the same page on how they want to build the team.
It all starts with the defensive line.
“Kyle [Shanahan] and I came together, one of the things that we really believed in is that that’s an equalizer [d-line] in a football league where everything’s set up for offenses to be successful.” Lynch said. “One of the ways you can equalize the equation is by to get after and knock down the passer. We built a pretty good unit there and we wanted to keep that strong. We thought he was a great fit for that.”
Under normal circumstances, Kinlaw would have been flown out to the Bay Area for an introductory press conference, but with the coronavirus pandemic changing everything, Kinlaw met with the media virtually after being made the newest member of the Niners.
You had some contact with the 49ers throughout this process. What led you to believe that you’re a good fit for their system and how did you connect with the people you talked to with the 49ers?
“It wasn’t about connecting or talking to anybody. I just liked the way they play honestly.”
And, how’s that?
“They just going after it. Penetrating, getting off, getting off the ball. That type of thing. And, that’s what I like to do.”
And do you think you can step in and be a three-down player for them?
“Hands down. I’m ready.”
As you know, you’ve got a fellow on Gamecock already on the roster. How well do you know WR Deebo Samuel? Has he contacted you since the pick was made? And, what are your thoughts about joining him in Santa Clara?
“Deebo called me the other day and told me I was coming to San Francisco and I just texted Deebo. So, me and Deebo, we’ve got a pretty good relationship.”
What do you know about this team and sort of the culture that you’re going to be joining out here?
“By the way things look, you can tell everybody is working together for the same goal. That’s what I want to be a part of.”
You mentioned that you had watched a lot of the Niners. I just am curious how much you had seen in terms of watching their defensive line that allowed you to fit in and what you make of your defensive line-mates? Guys like DL Nick Bosa and DL Dee Ford and DL Arik Armstead and those guys.
“Yeah, I think they might’ve been the best defensive line in football last year. I’m not just saying that. The way they play, they play the right way. I feel like they play the way the game is supposed to be played.”
Indianapolis Colts DL DeForest Buckner was a guy who they traded out of here and they used that pick essentially to get you. What did you know about DeForest Buckner and do you feel like you have some big shoes to fill in that way?
“I was watching DeForest since he was coming out of college. I know he started off as a raw player and he developed into a monster. I feel like once I can get that type of coaching, I can probably be somebody like him.”
You reportedly didn’t participate at the combine because of knee tendinitis. What is the situation with your knee? How long have you been dealing with that?
“My knee is healed 100%. There’s no issues.”
Was that an issue you dealt with in college at all?
I read about a game against Georgia last year where you guys won and you took almost 95 snaps and you refused to come out of the game. I’m wondering if that game is an illustration of who you are as a football player? I was hoping you could kind of tell me about your mentality as a defensive lineman, because I thought that was pretty cool that you wouldn’t come out of the game even after that many snaps.
“That’s just who I am as a person. That’s just my makeup. It’s just in my DNA. On the field, off the field, I just want to be that guy. I feel like I was born to be that guy.”
I read also that you feel that you haven’t even scratched the surface of your potential as a pass rusher. How much do you think that working with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, those guys on the 49ers right now, that defensive line, how much do you think that can improve your game as a pass rusher?
“Well playing next to guys like that, I think it leaves opportunities for me to get a lot of one-on-one. And, I feel as though the D-Line coach, I feel like he’s gonna do a good job of developing me the right way and help me understand the game of football more and more as the years go on.”
You mentioned your D-Line coach, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. I’m wondering how much contact you had with him during the pre-draft process and he’s known for being very loud and screaming a lot on the practice field. Have you ever had a coach like that and are you prepared for that type of coaching style?
“You all must not know who [University of South Carolina head coach] Will Muschamp is.”
Muschamp yells a lot?
“Muschamp will put his foot up your behind if he could. But, I’m used to that type of coaching. That’s what I respond to the best anyway.”
Can you describe just how this draft unfolded for you tonight and were you concerned at all that the 49ers might go with a wide receiver instead of you, since there was only one off the board at that point?
“I didn’t really know what they were going to do. I didn’t know where I was going at, I was just waiting for a call. Once I got that call I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’ This is where I’m going. I’m lit. I’m ready to go.”
How have you been able to continue staying in shape and working out during this time?
“Just mainly working on my cardio, honestly. Just keeping my cardio up, jogging a lot.”
Is there anything football-wise, techniques or anything that you can really hone in on?
“I haven’t been able to find fields where I live, so I’ve just been jogging. That’s about it. But, I know one thing, my wind will be up.”
You said that you were so impressed with watching this defensive line play this year. How do you feel like your skillset can add to that and even enhance it?
“Just a physical presence. Another physical, dominating presence attached with three more? You can’t ask for nothing better than that. I feel like I can come in and play a vital role.”
He has some big shoes to fill, but I am excited to see what Kinlaw brings to an already stacked defense.
What are you expecting to see from Kinlaw during his rookie season?