No team has had two consecutive AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year winners.
Could the 49ers become the first?
Edge rusher Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, won the award last season after recording 9.0 sacks in the regular season. Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash pinpointed 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the No. 14 pick in 2020, as having the fifth-best chance to win the award this season.
"Javon Kinlaw is joining one of the best pass-rush units in the entire NFL in San Francisco," Treash wrote. "If he develops his repertoire of pass-rushing moves, he has the chance to put up outlier-type numbers for a rookie interior defensive lineman."
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Kinlaw’s limited set of moves didn’t hinder him at South Carolina, where he won a higher percentage of pass rushes (18.8 percent) than any player in the FBS in 2019, according to Treash. The D-lineman’s 90.7 pass-rush grade was also third-best at college football’s highest level last season.
That kind of ability makes it clear why 49ers players, coaches and executives think Kinlaw will seamlessly fit along the 49ers’ defensive line. The 49ers wouldn’t have been able to select Kinlaw had they not traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of the offseason, and Kinlaw has the potential to be an ideal replacement.
Still, the 22-year-old will face stiff competition for Rookie of the Year. Washington edge rusher Chase Young, Bosa’s fellow Ohio State Buckeye who was taken No. 2 overall last month, figures to be the favorite. Treash called Young “the best non-quarterback prospect we have ever seen” in PFF’s decade-plus of existence, “even above” Bosa. Young set PFF’s pass-rushing grade record (96.4) in 2019.
Kinlaw will have enough on his plate trying to replace Buckner, so the 49ers will be happy with his development if he proves capable of doing so as a rookie.
Any personal hardware would be an added bonus.