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The Shanaplan: Explaining the importance of Javon Kinlaw to the 49ers

The Niners are relying on Kinlaw to be healthy and produce in 2022

During today’s episode of The Shanaplan, Akash and I sort through what to believe about Jimmy Garoppolo, why the 49ers won’t outright release him, and why you shouldn’t be frustrated that Jimmy is still on the team.

We also spoke about the importance of Javon Kinlaw to the Niners. When Kyle Shanahan said at the owner’s meetings Tuesday, he raved about Kinlaw and how he sees Kinlaw working outside of his window every day. This is peak offseason talk, but Shanahan said Kinlaw is “the healthiest I’ve seen him since he’s been here.”

The team isn’t letting D.J. Jones walk in free agency if they aren’t comfortable with the health and the way Kinlaw is trending. It helps that Shanahan gets to see Kinlaw’s progress firsthand daily.

Make no mistake about it; the 49ers need Kinlaw to play. Arik Armstead transforming into an elite defensive tackle during the regular season’s second half played a significant factor in the defense’s dominance.

Per ESPN’s run-stop win-rate stat, Armstead and Jones were two of the three best run defenders in the NFL. Winning on early downs — the 49ers were second in the NFL in defensive success rate and rushing EPA per play allowed on first and second down — is how the team got off the field so efficiently on third downs.

The Niners signed Hassan Ridgeway during free agency, who bounces back and forth between both tackle spots but is primarily a 3-technique. After those two, you have solid depth pieces in Kevin Givens and Maurice Hurst.

Those three players make for good rotational depth pieces. Neither of those three was as impactful as Jones last year, nor do they possess the ceiling as Kinlaw. Kinlaw has to play. He’s played 16 games in two seasons. The worry is that most players the size of Kinlaw don’t all of a sudden stop getting hurt — especially when it’s something as serious as chronic knee issues.

Shanahan going out of his way to speak about Kinlaw was promising. As was knowing the team didn’t go out of their way to overpay Jones or another defensive tackle. Still, Kinlaw has to play and prove that he was worthy of a top-15 pick.

He’s still not out of the shadow of DeForest Buckner yet, either. San Francisco didn’t draft Kinlaw to be a one-down run-stopping defensive tackle. He doesn’t have to become a perennial 12 sacks a season type of player.

But 1.5 sacks in two seasons isn’t going to cut it. In 2020, Kinlaw essentially didn’t have an offseason. We know his injuries lingered into last year as Kinlaw was limited during training camp. The hope is Kinlaw heads into OTAs and minicamp healthy, and we see the best version of a prospect who was thought of highly coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft.

You can listen to the full episode below:

Other topics include:

Should we worry that Trey Lance wasn’t named the starter? (13:52)

Why Shanahan hired Griese (18:04)

What the 49ers’ plan is for the holes on the offensive line (26:26)

Alex Mack’s future is still in doubt (34:17)

What positions are the 49ers interested in drafting? (36:00)