As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to re-tool their roster heading into the 2023 NFL season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the team involves whether or not general manager John Lynch will pick up 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw. Discussing that very topic in The Athletic’s “State of the 49ers” article series, Matt Barrows reported that San Francisco is leaning one way in particular regarding Kinlaw’s future.
“Kinlaw’s struggles were cited above. The team is unlikely to pick up his fifth-year option in May, which means he’s heading into the final year of his contract,” Barrows said. “Kinlaw played just three games last season before his knee began acting up and the 49ers have to consider a more dependable starting defensive tackle.”
Initially drafted with the pick Lynch acquired in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts for DeForest Buckner, who has been named to the All-Pro list and the Pro Bowl in the next two proceeding seasons, Kinlaw has only appeared in 22 games over the past three seasons, including just 10 regular season contests since 2021. Earning a 31.9 defensive grade for his overall efforts, according to Pro Football Focus, the worst mark of any player on the team regardless of position, Kinlaw has widely underperformed versus fan expectations and will have to turn in a very good fourth season to justify the sort of contract many projected him to eventually earn coming out of college.
Javon Kinlaw has Underperformed as a D.J. Jones Replacement
Discussing Kinlaw’s perceived role heading into the season elsewhere in his joint article with David Lombardi, Barrows noted that the 49ers allowed former starter D.J. Jones, a stalwart of the defensive line from 2019-21, to leave in free agency in part because they believed that the South Carolina-product could fill his shoes. Unfortunately, that largely wasn’t the case.
“The 49ers began the season without longtime interior defender D.J. Jones, who signed a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal with the Broncos,” Barrows wrote. “Jones was San Francisco’s best defensive lineman versus the run in 2021, and he provided pass-rush pop, too — three sacks and 24 quarterback pressures.”
“The team thought Javon Kinlaw could fill that role, but the former first-round pick quickly went on injured reserve and missed 11 games after his surgically repaired knee flared up.”
Finishing out the 2022 regular season with the second-worst run defense grade in the NFL at 28.8, according to Pro Football Focus, Kinlaw produced less against the run on his 132 defensive snaps than almost every other defensive tackle in the NFL and all of his 49ers teammates.
The San Francisco 49ers Have Been Lucky in the NFL Draft
Did the San Francisco 49ers make a mistake allowing Jones to walk in free agency and sign a three-year, $30 million contract with the Denver Broncos? It’s impossible to know, but as David Lombardi noted in his story with Barrows, the Niners have found valuable contributors on Day 3 of the NFL draft and already have a player they like in 2022 sixth-round pick Kalia Davis.
“Remember that Jones was a sixth-round pick back in 2017, so it is possible to find an impact player at that position later in the draft,” Lombardi said. “The team has compared Davis’ skill set to Jones’, so there’s something to watch with him, but the 49ers’ front next season will ultimately be judged not by just one player but by the full collection of talent that it amasses.”
Can Davis become the sort of player Jones was for the Niners? Or will they instead have to target a player like Siaki Ika out of Baylor in the draft? Fans will find out soon enough, as the 2023 NFL calendar year officially opens up on March 15.