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Breaking down Javon Kinlaw in five plays

Part I: Alabama

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Missouri at South Carolina Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We haven’t broken down the San Francisco 49ers’ first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Javon Kinlaw. During his post-draft press conference, general manager John Lynch said Kinlaw played his best games during his best competition, and specifically cited Alabama and Georgia. This week, I’ll show a handful of plays from both of those games, as well as a few other games I’ve watched. I want to get away from how Brandon Aiyuk’s position coach spoke about his former player and give you an idea of what real life will be like in the NFL for Kinlaw. He’s going to make a ton of plays, especially with the players he’s surrounded by. There will also be parts of Kinlaw’s game he’ll need to refine.

Here are five plays that stood out against the Crimson Tide.

Making mistakes on the move

This first play, Kinlaw is lined up over the center. He’s slanting toward the offenses left, and because Kinlaw doesn’t attack downhill, he creates a significant running lane and the running back takes advantage:

Instead of Kinlaw running parallel to the line of scrimmage, you’d like to see him try and penetrate here. Whenever a lineman turns his numbers into the hole, that’s the sign of a win. The result of the play may not change, but it’s that’s a bad habit Kinlaw needs to shake. Too often in 2019, he was off-balance, and the offense was able to move Kinlaw off his spot. This is coachable, thankfully, but Kinlaw is too big and strong for this to happen consistently to him. Technique and fundamentals will be what defensive line coach Kris Kocurek focuses on with Kinlaw.

Speeding up his moves

Kinlaw won a lot at South Carolina. Something I noticed was that if he sped up his moves by a split-second, Kinlaw would have added a couple more sacks and tackles for loss to his stat sheet. “Push-pull” Kinlaw’s go-to move that works exactly how it sounds. Kinlaw engages with the offensive lineman, bullrushes him back, then pulls the lineman toward him and disengages simultaneously. Kinlaw is lined up over the right guard on the play below. It looks as if he is trying to locate the quarterback, and that slows him down just enough to where Kinlaw can’t get to the quarterback in time.

If Kinlaw disengages and speeds up a half tick more, he affects the throw. Instead, it’s a touchdown. That score isn’t on Kinlaw, but I did see quite a bit during the games I watched where Kinlaw was a half-second slow. Considering how often he won, that’s scary knowing what Kinlaw can become.

Big and strong, you say?

Every star player has “wow” plays. Kinlaw was good for a couple of “wow” plays a game, and it didn’t matter who his opponent was. He overwhelmed Alabama, Georgia, and even players at the Senior Bowl. When you can run over grown men, as Kinlaw does below, you’re going to catch evaluators eyes:

You can’t teach that, and that skillset alone put Kinlaw in consideration for a first-round pick. Kinlaw showed enough athleticism and want to chase down the QB and finish the play. That’s as impressive of a play as you’ll see from an interior pass rusher.

Creating counters

Kinlaw isn’t going to overwhelm NFL lineman as he did in South Carolina. Not as frequently, anyway. He’ll need to learn how to counter when his bullrush doesn’t work. On the play below, Kinlaw is lined up over the right guard, and there’s no plan when his initial pass rush move doesn’t work. Again, coachable, but it has to be pointed out. The best part of the play below is Kinlaw showing effort and running 35 yards down the field. I would have liked to see any sort of counter with his hands, even if the move didn’t work:

Instead, Kinlaw continues to attempt to overpower the right guard, and it doesn’t work. You’ll see on the sideline during games the 49ers’ defensive line teaching each other moves and walking through how to attack offensive lines. I’m not too worried about Kinlaw developing an arsenal of moves, but you also can’t give him credit since that’s not how he wins yet.

All-Pro 1-tech

That’s what I wrote down in March about Kinlaw. He can be an All-Pro inside. Ideally, Bosa and Ford are on the edges, with Armstead and Kinlaw coming at you from up the middle. Throw in a couple of stunts and blitzes, and good luck moving the ball consistently against this defense. The play below is a run, but Kinlaw is once again lined up over the center, who never had a chance against Kinlaw all game. To be fair, there wasn’t a center I saw that could handle Kinlaw.

One of the few areas the 49ers defense struggled last season was in the red zone, specifically, down the stretch. San Francisco finished 26th in red zone touchdown percentage. If Kinlaw is lined up inside near the goal line, you’re not moving him. He’ll be head up on a lineman, and that means you can’t double him.

We’ll be back tomorrow, breaking down Kinlaw vs. Georgia.