SANTA CLARA — Making an impact on the field has been a long time coming for Javon Kinlaw, but the 49ers' hulking defensive tackle knew there was no option other than success.
After being selected as the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Kinlaw battled chronic knee injuries that held him back from reaching his full potential. Now, in his fourth season with the team, the South Carolina product is reaping the rewards of his hard work and diligence.
“Not bragging about myself, but I think during one of my first interviews, I said I was going to be a good player,” Kinlaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I believed it from the jump. When you believe something like that, and you work at it so hard, you have no choice but to come through.”
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Through three games this season, Kinlaw is having his most productive campaign yet. According to Pro Football Focus, Kinlaw has recorded 10 total quarterback pressures which ranks him third on the team behind Nick Bosa (15) and Javon Hargrave (13).
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks noticed Kinlaw’s work ethic immediately after his arrival in Santa Clara during the 2023 offseaon. The coach has been so impressed, that he caved to the lobbying of Kinlaw and the defensive line room to deploy a five-man front during San Francisco's Week 3 win over the New York Giants.
“Kinlaw has worked his butt off all in the offseason, done a tremendous job,” Wilks said on Thursday. “It gives those guys an opportunity up front, to get one-on-ones, which I think is tough for anybody to block our guys up front one-on-one.”
Wilks went on to explain that calling the five-man front was not a reward for Kinlaw’s hard work per se, but rather a change of pace for the group. Still, Wilks would not have acquiesced if Kinlaw hadn’t earned the opportunity.
San Francisco 49ers
“They lobby every week and can get a little testy when I don’t call it,” Wilks said. “Like, ’It’s up, when are you going to call it?’ So I got to it. We had success and wanted to go back to it as well. And those guys did a great job, so I’m happy about it.”
For a player who only has appeared in 24 games in three seasons, Kinlaw has had to exercise patience in getting to his current level of production. At nearly 26 years of age, the lineman seems to have matured mentally as much as he has improved on the field.
“I had to go through this process,” Kinlaw said. “I had to understand what it takes to be a pro. It just happened that way for me. I thank God for it every day because, without the trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t know how to take care of myself the right way and know what I need to do to be on and stay on the field.”
Kinlaw might have a little impatience still left in his system, and that’s simply in regards to getting his hands on an opposing quarterback. The defensive tackle eagerly is anticipating his first quarterback sack since his rookie season, believing it’s only a matter of time.