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The Most Underrated Play of the 49ers 2020 Season

Kyle Snow remembers Javon Kinlaw’s interception against Jared Goff

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Snow is back with a guest post. This time around, Kyle remembers one of the few bright spots from the 49ers 2020 season when then-rookie Javon Kinlaw picked off Jared Goff.

If I asked you to think about the best plays from the 2019 season, the two that would instantly jump to mind are Dre Greenlaw’s walk-off stop at the one-inch line in Week 17 versus the Seahawks and George Kittle’s impersonation of Superman to beat the Saints.

If you thought about it for a second, you’d probably have a big grin on your face as you remembered Nick Bosa slip-sliding across a soaking field in Washington or mocking Baker Mayfield in Cleveland.

I’ll shamelessly remind you of a couple more nostalgic moments, just in case you forgot. Week 5 versus the Browns, when you didn’t even get a chance to order your first beer before Matt Breida made an 83-yard house call. The 46-yard throw to Emanual Sanders to beat the Rams late in the season, or Fred Warner’s interception in the same game. Nick Bosa’s (shoot, he had a few, didn’t he?) pick in Carolina, Kittle’s long TD against GB, or Jeff Wilson’s impressive game-winning touchdown against Arizona in week 11.

But if I asked you the same question about the 2020 season, you might have a harder time remembering any good moments at all. If you could, they would probably all be from early in the season when hope was still alive. You’d probably pick one of Mosert’s huge plays before he was hurt or Brandon Aiyuk leaping over a defender. You also have Kittle’s impossible grab against the Seahawks. But none of these plays were meaningful like they were in 2019.

The play I’m thinking of happened well into the “Tank for Trey” portion of the season and probably cost the Niners at least a few draft picks. Unsurprisingly, it was against Jared Goff in Week 12, coming off three losses and about to start another 3-loss slide. It was the only time in the second half of the season that I jumped out of my chair watching a Niners game. It was when Javon Kinlaw came up with a pick 6 in a game that was decided by 3 points.

If you watched it live, the announcers didn’t really make that big of a deal of it because the Niners probably weren’t going to make the playoffs at that point, and to be honest, Kinlaw made it look easy. But don’t be deceived; it was no routine errant throw from Goff that we have all come to know and love, where Kinlaw was in the perfect place and just walked in for a touchdown. Well, yes, it was a bad throw, but it didn’t hit him in the chest. Instead, he reached out his long arms and plucked it out of the air like Julio Jones. He caught it in stride and made no hesitation to start moving upfield, similar to Jeff Wilson or Deebo Samuel, albeit much slower.

If he had been in position and batted the ball down, it would have been a really good play. If he had just made an interception (for the single biggest person on the field) and fallen to the ground, it would have been a great play. But for Kinlaw to actually turn up-field, and come up with 6 points, makes me think it was the best play by a Niner during the 2020 season, especially when you factor in the game was decided by only three points. His only competition for play of the year was Aiyuk’s Week 4 touchdown.

What to Expect in the Future?

Niners fans are a little hesitant to hold out hope for Kinlaw after such a mediocre rookie season for two main reasons: Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas. We were told that Thomas was going to turn into Aaron Donald for years, and it just didn’t happen. Then we saw that Nick Bosa certainly didn’t need a year to develop. But this doesn’t mean that Kinlaw can’t improve in Year 2.

A lot of people compared Kinlaw to Chris Jones coming out of college, who wasn’t great in his first year and then had dramatic improvements after that. Plus, Kinlaw has prototypical size, strength, and athleticism. The only thing lacking is the technique, which can be improved at the pro level.

If fans gave Dre Greenlaw a free pass on his down season last year based on his 2019 week 17 stop of Hollister on the goal line, we have ample reason to hold out hope for Javon Kinlaw in 2021.

I’m almost up to 10 followers now on Twitter, so please give a follow! Don’t be afraid to give some feedback, or let me know what you’d like me to write about. Now that I actually have a few followers, I’ll be posting from there more often. @goldrushkdawg.