Trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts left the 49ers with a big hole on their defensive line. A hole they plugged a month later when they selected South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Big things are expected from Kinlaw, a physical freak with the motor to match his insane skill. While he won't be asked to match Buckner's production right out of the gates, there is no telling how good Kinlaw can become. Count Ronnie Lott as one of the many who is excited to watch Kinlaw suit up in Santa Clara and believes big things await one of the rare prospects entering the league without a weakness.
"The kid that's really exciting a lot of people is [Kinlaw] because he competed in a league that's somewhat amazing," the Pro Football Hall of Famer told NBC Sports Bay Area in a video interview Monday. "I've met a lot of kids that come out of that particular conference [SEC] and they are phenomenal athletes ... When you come out of that community and competition and the will to play some of the best players in the country,it just only makes you better. From what I've heard and what I've seen, he's going to give you everything.
"The hard part in sports is finding the kid that's going to give you everything. I mean everything on every play. A lot of times, we talk about seeing greatness from athletes and they can give you something on each play but they got to give you something great on every play. From what I understand, against some of the teams he played against, people were raving because he was giving some really amazing stuff against Alabama, against LSU. That tells you if he's ready to compete at that level in that environment, he should be ready to compete for the 49ers. "
Kinlaw was a dominant force each and every week he took the field in SEC play. Going up against some of the best athletes in college football, many of whom he will face on Sundays, Kinlaw was a force of nature in Columbia.
Javon Kinlaw is an absolute unit pic.twitter.com/FcRifumP4T— Sam Hustis (@SamHustis) April 24, 2020
Kinlaw, 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds, has a quick first step and rare physical gifts that make him a load to handle on the inside. Some draft analysts questioned his production at South Carolina as he only notched 10 career sacks. He has a good arsenal of pass-rush moves and delivers effort on every single snap. A lot of his lack of production during his senior season was due to less talent around him.
Kinlaw was good at disrupting plays individually but too often his teammates weren't there to clean up the play.
There's a lot to like about Kinlaw. He's a freak athlete who is motivated in a way many top picks aren't. Kinlaw and his family members were homeless for a while after his mother brought the family over from Trinidad and Tobago. They moved to Mississippi and South Carolina throughout his childhood. While he excelled at football, Kinlaw struggled academically. He turned it around in junior college because he knew he had no other chouse.
“Just getting to college. Just having somewhere that I knew I wasn’t going to get put out of,” Kinlaw said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Just having three meals. I always tell people I didn’t go to junior college for football, really. I just went because I had somewhere to sleep. I had free food. That’s really why I went. I didn’t go with the expectation that, ‘Man, I’m going to go to the SEC, I’m going to go to the league.’ I went because I had somewhere to sleep.”
Now the father of a little girl, Kinlaw is motivated to give her the life that he never had growing up.
“When she was born, not that he didn’t work hard before, but I saw a guy that was on a mission,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp told NBC Sports Bay Area in April. “[He] understood that there was a lot more out there for him right now in taking care of his daughter and taking care of his family.”
Buckner was a force in the middle of the 49ers' defense last season with his ability to create interior pressure allowing Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead to overwhelm offensive lines.
Kinlaw, along with veterans like D.J. Jones, will be tasked with filling the void left by Buckner in 2020. The 49ers are primed to win now and Kinlaw's production and growth will play a big role in their march back to the Super Bowl.
The future is bright for Kinlaw, and he has a believer in Lott.
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