Nick Bosa, the 49ers’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, was a big reason why San Francisco jumped from a 4-12 team in 2018 to the Super Bowl last season. The second-year end and reigning defensive rookie of the year thinks his team also nailed its top selection in 2020.
Bosa, speaking to local reporters on Wednesday, applauded the move of the 49ers taking defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at No. 13 overall. Appropriately, that was the pick acquired from trading defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts.
“He just embodies what we do as a D-line — just the way he plays the run, he’s just a beast,” Bosa said from briefly watching what Kinlaw did at South Carolina. “He plays the run like we play it. He gets off the ball really fast and he’s just a giant human, perfect to replace Buckner, and I’m really excited. He seems like a good dude, and I’ve been talking to him a little bit, so I can’t wait.”
Bosa had 9 sacks as a rookie, second on the team behind Arik Armstead and his 10. Buckner, after a Pro Bowl 12-sack campaign in 2018, was third with 7.5. Buckner was moved ahead of his pending 2021 NFL free agency because San Francisco, after giving Armstead a five-year, $85 million deal, couldn’t afford to sign him long-term the way Indianapolis promptly could.
Consider this amazing foresight by the 49ers and general manager John Lynch. Most organizations that just fell short of the Super Bowl wouldn’t aggressively move a key member of a strong front four so vital to the team’s success.
Kinlaw was projected to go between No. 10 and No. 16 overall as the second interior defensive prospect in the class behind Auburn’s Derrick Brown, whom the Panthers took at No. 7 overall. The 49ers ended up right in the middle of that range for Kinlaw and found the ideal Buckner trade partner in the defense-hungry, cap-rich Colts.
When watching what Kinlaw did for the Gamecocks under Will Muschamp, it was pretty evident there was plenty of Buckner’s style in him. Kinlaw (6-5, 324 pounds) is shorter but bulkier than Buckner (6-7, 295 pounds). Buckner had 19.5 sacks in his last 32 games with the 49ers. Kinlaw posted 15 in his final 22 games at South Carolina. Kinlaw also stands out with his wingspan, explosiveness and energy.
With Bosa, Armstead and Dee Ford returning at end, there was no way the 49ers would trust Solomon Thomas, the most disppointing of their first-round defensive lineman, to replace Buckner in the starting lineup next to run-stuffer D.J. Jones. San Francisco confirmed that sentiment after the draft by declining Thomas’ fifth-year option for next season.
Would the 49ers have been so comfortable dealing Buckner had a player of Kinlaw’s skill set not been available high in the draft to make an immediate interior pass-rushing impact? One will never know. Although Bosa admitted it was tough to see a teammate as beloved as Buckner go, there’s no doubt he and the rest of 49ers have full confidence in Kinlaw to pick up where Buckner left off. They should, with no physical evidence to believe otherwise.