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.