49ers' Javon Kinlaw already matched DeForest Buckner's best rookie performance

Brian Witt
·2 min read

Kinlaw already matched Buckner's best rookie performance originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

One game into his NFL career, 49ers rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw still is looking for his first sack. Despite that, he already has equaled his predecessor's best performance as a first-year player.

The 49ers selected Kinlaw with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to fill the void that was created when DeForest Buckner was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. Buckner is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and the Colts immediately paid him accordingly. While Kinlaw still has a long way to go to reach Buckner's level, he's obviously younger and comes at a fraction of the price.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan thought Kinlaw "had a hell of a game" in his NFL debut in San Francisco's 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, and the numbers back up that assessment. Not only was Kinlaw Pro Football Focus' third-highest graded rookie in Week 1, but he also was one of the best players at his position throughout the entire NFL.

Kinlaw's Week 1 grade (81.4) ranked first among all rookie defensive tackles and fifth-best among all defensive tackles. That grade also happens to equal Buckner's best single-game grade as a rookie in 2016.

Kinlaw is an enormous physical specimen but still is quite raw. Given he produced such an impressive grade in his first career NFL game, that certainly bodes well. And though he still needs to develop his technique, it would appear that he's catching on quick.

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Kinlaw was able to generate significant penetration on multiple occasions in the loss to the Cardinals and likely would have had a more impressive statistical performance if Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray hadn't been getting rid of the ball so quickly. There's no guarantee he'll follow in Buckner's footsteps, but clearly Kinlaw is off to a great start.

And if that was the rawest version of Kinlaw that we'll see, the sky is the limit for San Francisco's first-round pick.