Javon Kinlaw has started 16 games in two seasons and has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and five quarterback hits. Kinlaw, drafted to replace DeForest Buckner for financial reasons, has hardly reminded fans of DeFo, who started 30 games with 20 tackles for loss, 44 quarterback hits, and 16.5 sacks in the same two-year span.
The comparisons to Buckner will be evergreen, but it’s time for Kinlaw to make his own path. The 49ers need a healthy Kinlaw. Based on their offseason decisions, they’re counting on it. D.J. Jones is gone, and Hasaan Ridgeway is his replacement.
There were no other changes along the interior defensive line. Because of that, there’s pressure on Kinlaw to stay on the field. At its peak, the 49ers defense is unlikely to sustain a top-5 season with the likes of Mo Hurst or Ridgeway playing starter snaps at defensive tackle.
Experience: 2 accrued seasons
Weight: 319 lbs.
This year is a massive year financially for Kinlaw. He has two seasons left on his rookie contract. San Francisco must decide after this season if they’ll exercise Kinlaw’s fifth-year option in 2024. For his sake, the last thing Kinlaw wants is the label of a ‘one-year wonder,’ or only one usable season of game film when it comes to contract negotiations.
How he can improve in 2022
Heading into Year 3, with a full offseason to rehab, there aren’t many excuses left for Kinlaw. The 49ers invested a top-15 pick and have yet to reap the rewards. So playing double-digit games would be a significant victory.
As with any player, it takes live reps to improve. Kinlaw didn’t take long to prove himself as a run defender. However, it’s as a pass rusher where Kinlaw must take the next step to live up to his draft status.
Five quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks in two years wouldn’t be acceptable for Drake Jackson, and it sure isn’t for Kinlaw. Luckily, he’s surrounded by two of the best players at their position along the defensive line. Playing next to Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa will ensure a season’s longs worth of 1-on-1’s for Kinlaw.
What to expect in 2022
Projecting Kinlaw’s performance for 2022 is tricky. If you believe he’ll play over 12 games, you come off as too optimistic or hopeful. If you think he’ll play five games, you’re a pessimist.
Last year, Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi’s season was what I’m expecting from Kinlaw. Per Sports Info Solutions, Ogunjobi finished with seven sacks and eight QB knockdowns while totaling 43 pressures. Those stats came on 692 snaps — a sum Kinlaw has yet to reach.