When you think about the 49ers entering training camp, it’s easy to get excited about individual matchups like Trent Williams versus Nick Bosa and George Kittle going head-to-head against Fred Warner.
There are a couple of positional battles that’ll sort themselves out. At defensive tackle, it’s on Javon Kinlaw to replace D.J. Jones. Kinlaw, a former top-15 pick, has higher expectations than Jones. You’re hoping Kinlaw brings more to the table as a pass-rusher than Jones and what Kinlaw’s shown early in his career.
Do we know who Kinlaw is as a player? I’m not sure we do in either case. Some feel as though Kinlaw will only be a run-stopping defensive tackle, while others think he’s yet to hit his ceiling.
Larry Krueger thinks the NFL is going away from the type of players who have Kinlaw’s skillset:
He’s a 2-down, strong as an ox, defensive tackle who plays without leverage and gets by on unbelievable strength and power. He also doesn’t have any sort of misdirection or explosiveness, so he’s not going to pile up sacks.
His job, in my mind, is to keep bodies off Warner and Greenlaw, or Al-Shaair. He’s there to protect or stacked backers. Maybe I’m selling him short because I know a lot of people feel like he has dynamic traits for a rusher.
But I don’t see that. I see a really, really strong, kind of a 2022 version of Ted Washington. You’re not moving him. He’s not going to sack the QB, but he’ll bull-rush the lineman into the lap of the quarterback seven or eight times a game. That’s the trade-off.
I think the NFL is going away from this type of player. I’m not disappointed in Javon. I just think his skillset, of that unbelievable powerhouse, I see some Fletcher Cox in him, but Fletcher has more ability to get to the quarterback.
It’d be a disappointing season if Kinlaw were healthy but could only be on the field during running downs. Is Larry selling Kinlaw short? Because, based on his description, the Niners aren’t getting first-round value out of Kinlaw if that’s all he’s bringing to the table.
Teams are throwing the ball on first and third down, or closer to 65-70% of the time. So, if Kinlaw can’t rush the passer, the Niners took a run-stuffer at No. 14 overall. That’d be disappointing.
When talking big picture, every other defensive lineman on the roster has some pass-rushing ability. It isn’t easy to defend 1.5 sacks in 18 games. Even if he’s viewed as a replacement for D.J. Jones, Kinlaw has big shoes to fill for last year’s run-stop win-rate champion.
It’s one thing to push the pocket. It’s another to push the pocket and turn that into production. Let’s flip the script. Let’s say that Kinlaw lives up to the hype in his third year, and the Niners face a decision.
All of those pocket pushes turn into quarterback hits. There are counting stats you can reference with Kinlaw. All of a sudden, the 49ers' first-round pick is justified. Now, you have no choice but to pick up his fifth-year option. Now, you’re talking yourself into a hefty extension for the big fella.
Is one year of borderline dominant play worth an extension for a player with Kinlaw’s injury history? Larry believes so:
As long as you feel like it’s pretty consistent and there’s real growth. That’s when you talk to your defensive line coaches and say, ‘hey, how are you feeling about this guy? How are you feeling about his growth?’
That’s the beauty that you have in an awesome defensive line coach. If you’re Lynch or Shanahan, you can put all of your faith in him. The one thing about the Niners is that’ll be an intense competition in camp. He [Kinlaw] is going to have to play at a high level. They almost guaranteed it by the number of guys they have in camp.
If he does play at that high level and shows some consistency, I have no problem picking up his fifth-year option with an extension. If he turns into the war daddy they’re hoping, then hell yeah I’m paying him.
He’s a unique guy because he’s got a great motor, great work ethic, and natural strength and explosiveness. He’s not really a fast guy, but he’s a defensive tackle. He could make a huge impact and be the center of their defense if he has a big year.
You can listen/watch our entire conversation below: