San Francisco 49ers’ first-round pick Javon Kinlaw is being asked to contribute early on.
The 14th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Kinlaw was drafted to serve as the de-facto replacement for departed Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner.
The 49ers traded Buckner away in the offseason for the very same pick used to take Kinlaw primarily due to cap restraints. And the hope was that Kinlaw would help the team move on from losing one of its best players.
Except, that wasn’t supposed to happen right away.
While the organization clearly had big plans for Kinlaw, the goal was never to insert him into the starting lineup immediately. The plan always seemed to be for the Niners to allow him to be eased into a role on defense while playing more of a rotational role for the time being.
But following multiple injuries to his defensive line-mates, he’s no longer going to be granted that luxury.
Javon Kinlaw will now be asked to play an expanded role with the 49ers.
Two 49ers starters along the defensive line lost for the season with torn ACLs within a matter of plays. Thomas, in particular, was the key to allowing Kinlaw to sit and develop for a little while.
While the former No. 3 overall pick has never lived up to his lofty draft status, the Niners at least knew what they were getting from Thomas. He’s a reliable run-stopper who served an important role up-front for San Francisco.
But now, he very well may have played his last game with the 49ers. The transition to Kinlaw has arrived much sooner than anticipated.
All of a sudden, the 49ers will likely ask Kinlaw to start alongside Arik Armstead on the interior of the Niners’ defensive line. And with Bosa out — as well as Dee Ford — it will be up to a player like Kinlaw to make sure the 49ers’ pass-rush doesn’t fall off in any major way.
Despite not recording a sack in his first two games, Kinlaw has flashed a little as a pass-rusher. But the key for him will be consistency as his run-defense against the New York Jets in Week 2 was a little shaky.
It isn’t the scenario that the 49ers envisioned when they drafted Kinlaw, but it’s the one he’s being placed on.
Time to sink or swim.