Javon Kinlaw: boom or bust

South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is the newest 49er.
(Photo: Associated Press)

When Matt Millen was president of the Detroit Lions in the 2000s, he displayed a habit of drafting wide receivers in the first round. Same position, year after year. It got him fired.

The 49ers have become the Lions of the new era. Their position is defensive line, and they can’t get enough of them in the first round. Arik Armstead. DeForest Buckner. Solomon Thomas. Nick Bosa. And now Javon Kinlaw, all in a six-year period.

So why are so many 49ers fans feeling giddy about Thursday’s pick? Because the Niners had a hole in the middle of the D-line after trading Buckner to the Colts. Because as they showed last year, a disruptive pass rush is one of the keys to making a Super Bowl run. And most of all, because Kinlaw is a singular talent.

Yes, a wide receiver or an offensive tackle might have made more sense at pick No. 14 (after the 49ers had traded down one spot). But selecting a physically dominant, versatile, hard-charging defensive tackle carries its own logic.

I’ll write more about the first round when it’s done. For now, a brief look at the newest 49er.

Kinlaw has an inspiring story. He slept in basement apartments, in hotel rooms and on friends’ couches when he was kid. He passed high school with a GED, but already his college degree, having graduated from South Carolina in December as an interdisciplinary studies major. With the Gamecocks, he became a ferocious interior linemen who literally threw offensive linemen around and was at his best against top competition.

And yes, Kinlaw is uneven. That’s why most mock drafts had him going lower than 14. The scouting reports say things like “poor pad level” and “balance issues” and “lacks technique.” Ultimately, his raw ability was too much for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan to pass up.

I’d be shocked if Kinlaw offered anything in 2020 that comes close to what Buckner would have delivered. But he has a chance to be a truly special player, and he’s only 22. He’s the type of risky player a team like the 49ers, coming off a 13-3 season, can afford to develop.

This article has 72 Comments


    I love this pick so much, I had even pre-made a custom avatar for the occasion. If the formula aint broken, don’t fix it. IMO, it’s not a stretch to believe this kid has the ability to step in and dominate on the interior day one, as he has that much potential IMO. He’s everything Saleh/Kocurek is looking for in a disruptive, penetrating interior lineman, and it won’t be long before he matches, and perhaps even exceeds everything the Niners were getting from DeFo on the interior. And I don’t say that lightly, as I have all the respect in the world for Buckner!

    The fact that they “won” the trade back with the Bucs in the process, only makes that pie that much sweeter, so to speak.

    Drafttek value chart:

    No. 13: 1,150 Points
    No. 44: 1,100 Points
    No. 117: 60 Points
    No. 245: 1 Point

    The Niners free up a whole lot of cap space now, and in the coming years, while gaining 59 net “Points Of Value” in the process. That’s how you remain competitive in this league, IMO. Very good work from ShanaLynch & Co!

      1. WFT – that WR pick sucks. This guy would have been available at 31. If not, so f’ink what? Stay put and draft Tee Higgins.

        To give up #31, 117, and 176 to get an under sized WR makes no sense!

        1. Don’t they do this every year? Solid pick then a head scratcher move?

          Did anyone else feel the draft was flat and felt long?

    1. I assume the No. 44 you wrote was meant to be No. 14. Which means the Niners gained a net 9 points (1150-1100 = loss of 50 points; 1 point – 60 points = gain of 59 points, total of 9 points).

  2. In today’s NFL, after QB , the most important position involves putting pressure on the other team’s QB, whether from the DL or LB. Always great to get an impact WR, (and yes, every position is important) but rushing the passer is still a much higher priority AND it is easier to get a good WR than it is to get a guy who really puts pressure on the other team’s OL.

    1. Historically deep and talented class of WR’s, so 2nd and 3rd rounds are likely the sweet spot drafting for that position, IMO.

  3. Now, let’s see if the 49ers can turn that #31 into second and third round picks (if there ‘s nobody they’re in love with at #31)

      1. Prime, we agree again!
        Let me extend the olive branch my friend and I’d love to have you over to meet the missus when all of this is over.
        Do you accept?

      2. I find myself in the rare position of quite liking both the players the team drafted but not liking the draft philosophy.

      3. Thumbs up on Kinlaw. But the trade up for this WR?? I was hoping for a trade BACK at 31. To be fair, I don’t know much about this guy, but I do know that the PAC-12 is notoriously weak at WR (I’m looking at you, Dante Pettis).

        1. Aiyuk-13.6 yards after the catch, #1 in the FBS.
          21 yards per catch. Former running back.

          Jeudy-12.8 per catch
          Pittman-12.5 per catch

          1. Thanks Razor. This makes the pick way more palatable. Just hadn’t really heard or read much about him.

            Still, if you’re going to trade up anyway, couldn’t they have picked Jeudy/Lamb at 14 and then still traded up to get Kinlaw? Or does KS believe Ayuik is better than those other two?

            1. Aiyuk was Shanny’s man all along, and going by Fangio’s body language after the 49ers took Kinlaw, he might have been the player he wanted….

              1. My only issue is Aiyuk clearly wasn’t going up against the same kind of defensive talent that Jeudy/Lamb did. His YAC could be very misleading (again, see: Pettis, Dante).

              2. Lamb going against no competition. Half of that guys highlight tape is him running with no one even close to covering him. I like Aiyuk but he is definitely not a WR1. That being said it’s all about matchups with Shanny so not necessary for a WR1

                Aiyuk physically is way better than Pettis and was touted as a late first rounder by many. Pettis was a consensus 3-4th rounder that we reached on.

    1. Me either Scooter. Seems like they are overlooking some real needs and saying in effect that the Buckner move will hurt the team.

  4. What happened to Grant? Don’t get me wrong, I love that he’s not blogging at the moment. Is he on sabbatical?

  5. This draft is odd to say the least. My daughter attends ASU. We’ve seen some games and I honestly don’t remember this guy at all.

    1. Two games: Cal and UofA. Both games he was absent. It was primarily a rushing attack.

      I’d love to be wrong here but seems like SF is always cooking DLs and WRs.

  6. I like the pick also. Makes me think dee ford has been traded. 3 picks over the remainder of the draft. Anyone think ford, breida, Mullen’s are gone?

    1. Perhaps Breida more a 4th or 5th round pick. Other than that I don’t see Ford or Mullens getting traded.

      They had some holes and they filled them with upside prospects. Not really safe picks which I can appreciate

  7. Also my best friend works for asu athletic department and before the draft said this dude was a better wr than Henry

      1. The team has huge question marks on the OL and in their secondary, but will most likely not address either one sufficiently. They drafted an injury-plagued DT who suffers from knee tendinitis and overspent on a WR who most likely would have still been available in the second round and whose draft comparison is Cordarelle Patterson. The team did not get better tonight and has set itself up to have huge areas needing to be addressed in 2021. And to top it off, the team has yet to extend their best player in Kittle.
        No, I am not happy. For the first time since Shanahan and Lynch took over, I am not optimistic about either side of the ball.

          1. With certain rounds yes, but this is the first time in a while that I have not been happy with the first round. The secondary has three starting CBs and one starting SS scheduled to be free agents after this season. Their OL was in the top 10 in terms of worst pass protection, and their best asset on said line is nearing retirement. At least one of those areas needed to be addressed early on, and they weren’t.
            Instead, the team drafted a DT who will be competing with Ford and Alexander on who will make the injury list first and overspent on a second round receiver. The 2020 season and afterwards is looking rather bleak right now.

            1. I’m not a huge fan of the direction they have taken but I think this is a rather large over reaction. 2020 looking bleak? Huh? It’s effectively the same team that went to the SB, and they have now replaced the two guys they lost with 1st rounders.

              And while I know you have doubled down on the take that Kinlaw will be sidelined with injury all the time we’re talking about a guy that missed one game in college due to injury and every report on his medicals has basically said he has been cleared of any real long term concerns. You are taking the knee tendonitis and blowing it out of proportion.

              I’m not thrilled they likely won’t be adding some day 2 guys that could be longer term replacements at positions with guys whose contracts are coming up, but I can also accept it isn’t essential. There will still be FA and a draft next year.

        1. What a horrible take by you MidWestDynasty. First off Kinlaw is not injury plagued. He missed one game in his College career which was a nothing bowl game at the end of the season. Second Brandon Aiyuk was not a second round prospect and his best draft comparison just happens to be the guy he is replacing. This team had two major holes they needed to fill because they traded away one top player and lost the other in FA. They filled both with young highly talented players. The rest of the roster is the same one that went to the SB last year. Get a grip.

    1. I don’t hate it. I think they stayed true to their identity. Looking forward to seeing if these two can impact a SB roster.

      1. Ahead of Kinlaw? Based on who was still available:

        1. Wirfs
        2. Jeudy
        3. Lamb
        4. Jefferson
        5. Reagor
        6. Ruiz

        Ahead of Aiyuk?

        1. Epenesa
        2. Jones
        3. Blacklock
        4. Fulton
        5. Winfield Jr.
        6. Pittman
        7. Mims
        8. Cleveland
        T9. Claypool
        T9. Delpit

        I am not a fan of all of those prospects in each category, but they would have been the better choices.

        1. Ya I wanted Jeudy over Kinlaw. I am worried about Kinlaws knee. Also don’t like trading Buckner and drafting Kinlaw because your contracting yourself sort of.

          I like Aiyuk better than any of the WR you named. Epenesa would be a rotational piece at DE and Fulton I would not have mind at #31.

          I think overall it’s a safe draft and we mitigated the losses of Buckner and Sanders. Most importantly we start the season healthy on defensive line. That can carry us to another super bowl.

  8. Aiyuk has ability, but this was clearly a pick where the Niners thought him far and away better than the other WRs left. Mims would have been my preference, and would have been there at 31 probably. But if you were going to get a WR, the difference between these two (and some of the others with 2nd round grades) isn’t enough to warrant giving up a 4th round and other pick I thought.

      1. I like Samuel, and I know Aiyuk is like Samuel. But I thought they needed something different, not a copy. More variance.

        1. They just need a good WR’s that can contribute. And Aiyuk fills that position.
          This team is not in rebuilding mode, they could have completely traded out of the first round and still have enough talent to make another SB run. Aiyuk was not drafted to be the top WR, he was drafted because Shanahan see’s him as the best compliment to our other WR’s. The kid will get his opportunities and deliver. I believe that Aiyuk will do better than CeeDee, because CeeDee will find out that you can’t run over people the way he did in college.

          Kinlaw is a player that I’ve touted as a possible pick since 3 weeks ago, because he has the ability to penetrate the LOS and cause disruption. Like Aiyuk, he doesn’t need to be the star on defense, we already have some very good talent along the Dline. Btw, Kinlaw will be a day one starter and that makes this a good haul.

  9. Quick Poll:

    Which is the more likely outcome?

    A) Jed York manages to go 0-5 in Super Bowls.

    B) Jed York dies of the Chinese virus.

    1. Jed York & his family will never win a Super Bowl.
      They and that stadium they built 50 some miles from
      San Francisco are cursed.

  10. i dont hate it. gotta trust shany and Lynch.
    the problem with the top 3 wrs is that they werent #1 types……i wanted nothing to do with JJ….as he’s a slot guy! PERIOD!
    CD would have been close to a #1….without top tier speed……
    HR3 would have been a speedster with more tools IMO than most , one trick pony speed guys……so i liked him the best. But if we didnt get him…..i wanted Oline or Kinlaw!
    Kinda surprised we passed on Wirfs……dude was athletic enough to fit the system……and perfect to come in and play RG until Joe left!!!! So the fact we passed on him tells me…..JS will play another year, maybe 2……..and that they like the guys competing for RG!
    We had some good DT’s who i thought deserved a look……..but hey…..we lost 2 DT’s…….so it makes sense to get one really good one! and it frees up AA to play DE more.

    Aiuk played JUCO where the niners had training camp for all 5 SB runs…..where i spent the summer of ’94 watching practices daily…….Sierra College! And hes from Reno……hes a hometown guy.
    And Kinlaw let it be known that he WANTED to be a 49er!!!! I like the guys hard luck story………hes gonna work his @zz off for us!

    1. Jeudy is a 1,000 yard receiver and going to be a legit 100 grab 1,000 yard receiver for a long time.

      Bummer they didn’t grab him.

      1. I don’t believe that Shanahan looks at it that way. All those receptions would diminish production to the other WR’s. It would also cause defenses to focus on one player rather than plan for all the WR’s. I can’t see Shanahan being boxed in like that. He seems to like all his WR’s contributing in the game.
        If Shanahan only wants one player catching that many passes he could just use Kittle.

        1. That’s a good point although I would disagree because Kittle is a TE. But Shanny is all about matchups so Aiyuk will have his games.

          Also interesting point cuz Julio had like 115+ grabs and then 80+ grabs with Shanny as his coach.

  11. Regardless if you like the draft philosophy or picks, one thing 49er fans have to appreciate is this regime is always on the same page. Previous to them, owner, coach, GM made losing very possible because of the discontent between them.
    Right now, I love both picks. Why? Because each guy possesses the skills and traits, specific to the scheme. That’s how you build a winner. Like the Patriots did for so many years, plug a new guy in with the same skill set at a particular position.

  12. Posters who want to know more about Javon Kinlaw should read- Once homeless, Javon Kinlaw has not left the streets behind, by Chase Goodbread.
    It is an American success story, warts and all. The American spirit has lots of resiliency, but there is also a lot of pain. Javon Kinlaw should have a mentor assigned to him by the Niners, to help him steer in the right direction, and not a babysitter, like Aldon or Reuben.
    Homelessness, alcoholism, poverty, death, hunger and neglect. All of these experiences could have destroyed a lesser person. Kinlaw made it through the fire, and sometimes the hotter the flame, the stronger the steel.

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