Hindsight is and always will be 20/20. That’s why, in hindsight, it appears that the 49ers should’ve taken tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th overall pick in 2020 instead of trading down one pick to draft Javon Kinlaw. Like many others, I saw Wirfs as an immediate upgrade at right guard; a position that the 49ers have still yet to figure out to this day. Furthermore, with Wirfs on the roster, perhaps we don’t make the trade with Washington to secure Trent Williams, opting to start Wirfs at one of the tackle spots.
Either way, it’s hard to argue against picking Wirfs at that spot knowing what we know now. As a plug-and-play starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wirfs has won a Super Bowl, a Pro Bowl nod, and a first-team all-pro selection.
Instead, we got Javon Kinlaw, who hasn’t done nearly as much as Tristan Wirfs in his first two seasons in the league. Because of this, certain "reporters" have ridiculed the front office for choosing Kinlaw over Wirfs. This, I will never understand. Even if so-called "reporters" had favored Wirfs over Kinlaw during the pre-draft process, how could they have possibly foreseen today’s outcome? As we know, the draft is a complete crapshoot. No matter how many hours scouts spend studying film, there will always be bad picks. Just because you might’ve correctly guessed that Wirfs was going to be a better player than Kinlaw does not mean you’re smarter than an NFL front office. Not even close.
This self-entitlement, however, is the source of a lot of negativity directed at the player. For example, I wanted the 49ers to take a certain Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft. Instead, we ended up with Solomon Thomas, who is no longer with the team. Does that now make me a genius who deserves to replace John Lynch? No, of course not. After all, I was 15 years old and hadn’t even watched a minute of film on Thomas or Watson.
The point I’m trying to make is that the past can’t be changed and whatever you thought should’ve happened can’t happen anymore because well... the past can’t be changed. Pretty simple? I thought so.
So, Javon Kinlaw. It’s been two seasons and he’s already been called a "bust" by many members of the 49ers fanbase. That might be a valid point if he was, say, Isaiah Wilson, but he isn’t.
As a rookie, Kinlaw played in 14 games, starting twelve of them. Through 14 games, Kinlaw amassed 33 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. On paper, those stats don’t look outstanding. And truthfully, the stats tell most of the story. Kinlaw was woefully inconsistent in both pass rushing and run defending. He did show flashes of brilliance though. Flashes definitely won’t cut it in this league, but at least he showed promise in his rookie season.
As for production, Kinlaw was actually above average as a rookie. He played in 61% of the downs he was available for that season which is plenty for an interior lineman. He also scored an AV score of 7, which is highly impressive for a rookie.
AV is the "Approximate Value" that Pro Football Reference awards to a player throughout a full season based on production. For reference, Tristan Wirfs scored an 11 in his rookie season. This metric is only approximate, however, so take it with a grain of salt.
So in Kinlaw’s young career so far, he’s shown flashes as a rookie and had injury problems in year two. These are not the kind of results we’ve come to expect from a first-round draft pick. I won’t sugarcoat it: if Kinlaw doesn’t take a major jump within the remainder of his rookie deal, he’ll be considered a draft bust.
But what if he does? People fail to remember how poorly former 49ers' first-round picks Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward started their careers. Both Armstead and Ward played sparingly in their first three seasons in the NFL mostly due to injury. It wasn’t until his fourth season that Armstead finally lived up to his first-round pedigree. Ward didn’t have a pro-bowl level season until his sixth year as a pro. Yet nobody in the 49ers fanbase would call Armstead or Ward busts. They’re now two of the highest-paid players on the team and are cornerstones of a defense that would lead us to a Super Bowl and a conference championship appearance.
Development takes time. Not everyone can be a Tristan Wirfs and immediately become an all-pro coming straight from college. I’m not saying that Kinlaw will be as good as Wirfs, Armstead, or Ward. He may not ever amount to anything in the NFL, but until his time is done in San Francisco, it’s ridiculous to call him a bust.
The fact is that Kinlaw is still a young player with tons of potential. Everything that has come out regarding his knee rehabilitation has been extremely positive. Instead of ripping him down for what he hasn’t done his first two seasons in the league, let’s support a guy whose career might just be about to take off.
(Author’s note: Go easy on me guys, this is my first time posting one of these. There’s definitely some cohesion problems in this article, but I’ve decided to post it as is! Leave feedback if you have any!)