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San Francisco 49ers

Four Matchups to Watch in San Francisco’s Home Opener Against Detroit

Jon Chik

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49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner

Is it premature to call a Week 2 matchup a “must-win” game? Probably not if you’re a member for 49er Faithful. Following a tough loss marred by missed opportunities in Minnesota last week, the Niners play host to a reeling Lions team that was thoroughly embarrassed by the Jets 48-17 on Monday Night Football.

Here are the matchups we’ll be keeping an eye on in Week 2.

San Francisco’s offensive line vs. Detroit’s front seven

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: Games are won and lost in the trenches. Cliché? Maybe. True? Absolutely. And after being outmatched though not necessarily overwhelmed by Minnesota’s stout front seven in Week 1, San Francisco’s big boys seemingly get a reprieve against the Lions, as Detroit entered the season with the No. 26 run defense and the No. 24 pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Lions were gashed by New York’s backfield combo of Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell, who combined to take the rock 22 times for 162 yards, including a 62-touchdown rumble by Crowell, so Alfred Morris and Matt Brieda should get chances to shine after each showed small flashes against the Vikes.

Devon Kennard and Ezekiel Ansah each notched a sack for Detroit last week, yet only one player in the Lions’ front seven received a grade higher than 72.7 from Pro Football Focus last season (defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who received a 75.9 but recorded only 20 tackles as a member of the Titans in 2017).

Minnesota’s outmuscling of the Niners in the season opener can be chalked up to several factors: Injuries to starting right guard Mike Person and backup Josh Garnett, Mike McGlinchey being forced to take over at right guard and play the position for the first time in his life in his pro debut and an affluence of talent on the Vikings’ defense.

Look for the Niner offensive line to find its rhythm and fare far better against a Detroit crew that couldn’t stop a nosebleed on Monday night.

DT DeForest Buckner vs. LG Frank Ragnow and Detroit’s offensive line

How could any Niner fan possibly take their eyes off DeForest Buckner? The fast-rising superstar defensive tackle showed an incredible motor against the Vikings, kicking off his third pro season by routinely bull-rushing his way into the backfield and showing impressive agility to notch 2.5 sacks and seven tackles.

Buckner, who led the NFL with 19 quarterback hits last season but registered only three sacks, singlehandedly buoyed a pass rush that was one of San Francisco’s most glaring weaknesses coming into the season, though he’ll have a stiff challenge going up against a Detroit offensive line that was ranked eighth prior to the start of the campaign and did not yield a sack to New York last week, despite Matthew Stafford and Matt Cassel combining to throw 52 passes. Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Detroit line from receiving poor marks from PFF for its Week 1 performance.

Right guard Frank Ragnow, who received a dismal 41.2 grade from PFF in Week 1, will be charged with the unenviable task of trying to contain San Francisco’s resident force of destruction. And if Ragnow receives help from center Graham Glasgow (71.1 grade in Week 1), the door will swing open for DeFo’s linemates to take advantage of their one-on-one matchups.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Detroit’s secondary

It’s easy to include the starting quarterback in this article every week, but perhaps doing so is more appropriate than usual after Jimmy Garoppolo struggled mightily against the Vikings.

Jimmy G was certainly not the only Niner to have issues against Minnesota’s outstanding defense, but a strong performance against a lesser Detroit secondary would alleviate whatever concerns arose after the franchise quarterback was seemingly to blame for all three of his interceptions last week and sailed a few passes, most notably when he missed George Kittle in the back of the endzone for what could have been a four-yard touchdown.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Lions’ secondary as the league’s No. 12 unit heading into the season, but that didn’t stop Jets’ rookie quarterback Sam Darnold from completing 16-of-21 passes for 198 yards, two scores and an interception in Week 1.

Despite the major hiccup, Detroit’s secondary still boasts talented playmakers, including cornerback Darius Slay (88.1 PFF grade in 2017, eight interceptions last season) and safety Glover Quin (89.0 PFF grade in 2017)

Considering Detroit surrendered 48 points on Monday, however, this is still a plus matchup for San Francisco’s franchise signal-caller and a golden opportunity for him to play at the level he reached during the Niners’ late-season surge in 2017.

WR Dante Pettis vs. CB Nevin Lawson

From his first to his second game as a professional football player, Dante Pettis has arguably already gone from “top backup at all three receiver positions” to “featured player on the offense.” The Washington product turned in a mixed bag in his NFL debut last week, but his acrobatic 22-yard touchdown reception was a thing of beauty, and with Marquise Goodwin ruled out for Sunday, Pettis has been thrust into the limelight.

The rookie wideout could be matched up against cornerback Nevin Lawson, who received a poor 58 mark from PFF a season ago.

With Goodwin in street clothes, Garoppolo is likely to look in the direction of his young wideout, as evidenced by Pettis’ six targets in Minnesota (tied for third-most on the team). The elusive speedster, who broke two big plays against Minnesota and had a chance for an additional touchdown catch, is a threat to do serious damage anytime he touches the ball, and Lawson is certain to have his hands full trying to keep up.

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: The Brandon Aiyuk Episode

Brian Peacock

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© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Pick 25 in the 2020 draft, WR Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State
  • Scouting report, strengths, weaknesses
  • How Aiyuk went from community college corner to first round reciever
  • Challenges for Aiyuk to reach his immense ceiling with the 49ers

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San Francisco 49ers

49ers Surprise During Action-Packed 2020 NFL Draft, but at what Cost?

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49ers 2020 Draft, Javon Kinlaw
© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers filled three immediate needs during the 2020 NFL Draft, but were first-round draft picks DT Javon Kinlaw and WR Brandon Aiyuk — and new starting LT Trent Williams — worth the cost?

This is the first in a three-part series analyzing the San Francisco 49ers’ 2020 “draft masterclass.” The Niners’ draft has been ranked by analysts as one of the NFL’s best, although it takes years before a draft class can be properly assessed. So instead of merely grading these college talents before their first NFL snaps, we’ll take a look at the 49ers’ picks — and more importantly — the 49ers’ process.

San Francisco’s general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were full of surprises during the 2020 NFL Draft, beginning in the first round. Every 2020 mock draft was immediately ripped to shreds as the vast majority of fans and analysts expected the Niners to trade away one of their prized first-round picks for additional draft capital. Instead, the 49ers traded both of their Day 1 picks but ended the evening with just two players, and no selections for the second day of the draft.

Lynch and Shanahan started their “draft tradefest” in a dream scenario: on the clock with the consensus top-2 wide receivers in the draft — Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb — on the board, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the phone. The Bucs wanted to move up a single spot to the No. 13 selection — the pick the receiver-needy 49ers obtained via their trade of star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner — which would leave at least one of the two top receiver prospects on the board for San Francisco.

The two teams executed the trade, which scored the Niners a fouth-rounder in exchange for one of the 49ers’ seventh-round picks. Minutes later, San Francisco was back on the clock, and both receivers were still on the board. But instead of taking advantage of the situation they lucked themselves into, the Lynch and Shanahan did what they seem to do every year — follow their collective gut or the opinion of a trusted contact outside the organization — and drafted Buckner’s hopeful replacement, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw:

 

49ers Draft Pick No. 14: DT Javon Kinlaw

On Tuesday, Lynch spoke about the decision on FOX Sports’ The Herd with Collin Cowherd:

“We were incredibly comfortable with Will Muschamp because he gave us such an accurate depiction of Deebo Samuel last year. I didn’t know Will. I met him once. But we called on Deebo and he hit all his strengths, but he also hit his, not really weaknesses, but just realities of who the person is. And he depicted Deebo so well, a year later I said, ‘Kyle, we’ve got to pick up the phone and call Will about Kinlaw because he was so darn honest.” -John Lynch

Despite Muschamp’s biased opinion of his former player, there’s a lot to like about the raw Kinlaw:

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, he is shorter and stouter than his predecessor. And surprisingly, given his massive size, the DT has proven to be a better defender against the pass than the run. In 2019, Kinlaw received a 90.7 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), despite logging just six sacks during the season, and 10 only sacks over his three-year college career:

49ers DT Javon Kinlaw – College Defensive Statistics
Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Year School Conf Class Pos G Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int Yds Avg TD PD FR Yds TD FF
*2017 South Carolina SEC SO DL 7 12 5 17 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 1 2 1
*2018 South Carolina SEC JR DL 10 15 15 30 9.0 4.0 0 0 0 5 0 2
2019 South Carolina SEC SR DL 12 15 20 35 6.0 6.0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Career South Carolina 42 40 82 17.0 10.0 0 0 0 8 4 3

 

Since there are no easy games in the NFL, the 49ers hope they drafted the overpowering and productive version of Kinlaw and not the version who disappeared when South Carolina faced weaker opponents.

My initial assessment of the Kinlaw selection is I like the player, but I’m not a fan of the 49ers spending the draft pick they acquired in exchange for Buckner on a less-talented but cheaper version of the stud defensive lineman. San Francisco should have entered this year’s draft with one primary goal: improving their 2020 roster enough to win one more game than they did in 2019 — and “trading” Buckner for Kinlaw makes the Niners worse, albeit richer, in the short term.

Perhaps this pick would have been a bit sweeter if Lynch didn’t promptly waste the fourth-round selection he just obtained from Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the 49ers’ fourth-year GM — in the role normally played by his partner-in-crime Shanahan — fell in love with a prospect and wasted valuable draft capital to unnecessarily trade up for the one player he desperately needed to draft.

We’ll break down the San Francisco 49ers’ second first-round selection — and how the Niners got there — next.

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: The Javon Kinlaw Episode

Brian Peacock

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© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • Scouting report on the 14th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft
  • Javon Kinlaw’s unique background story growing up between DC and South Carolina
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • NFL transition and long term outlook with the 49ers

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