When the San Francisco 49ers traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, finding his replacement became an immediate priority. The organization addressed this need by spending the 14th overall selection in the draft on Javon Kinlaw. Fair or not, the Unversity of South Carolina product will constantly be compared to his predecessor.

While comparing production at the professional level won't be possible until the NFL season starts, we can still take a look at what Kinlaw and Buckner were able to accomplish in college. Of course, there is no scientific equation that states X amount of sacks as an amateur translates to X amount as a pro, but this exercise will at least provide some insight into how these two compare to each other heading into the league.

To get a more accurate juxtaposition of the current and ex-49er, I used data from their last two seasons in college. That is when both players received a significant amount of playing time and typically when draft prospects start to make a name for themselves.

Pass Rush


At first glance, it appears as if Buckner was a much more productive pass rusher. He recorded 111 pressures in his final years at the University of Oregon, while Kinlaw only registered 66, per Pro Football Focus. However, the difference can be accounted for by the number of opportunities each player had.

In 2014, the Ducks made it to the National Championship in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff system and managed to make a bowl game the following year. Whereas the former Gamecock never participated in the postseason as he was sidelined by a hip injury in 2018 and South Carolina failed to qualify in 2019. Thus, Buckner had 1,111 opportunities to rush the passer, and Kinlaw had 648.

With such a large discrepancy in the sample sizes, it's more effective to compare these two by the rate at which they were able to affect the quarterback. Buckner registered a pressure on about 9.9 percent of his pass-rush snaps, while Kinlaw was successful about 10.2 percent of the time. A 0.3 percent difference is very insignificant and shows that the defensive linemen's production was fairly similar to one another.

Something else to consider here is the defensive scheme. Oregon primarily used a 3/4 defense (three defensive linemen and four linebackers) back then, and South Carolina used what's called a "multiple" defense, meaning they used a mixture of 3/4 and 4/3 alignments. As a result, the former Duck played on the edge about 82 percent of the time, while the former Gamecock only got to play on the outside about 3 percent of the time. Given this, one could argue that Kinlaw's production is more impressive than Buckner's because it's easier to rush the quarterback from a wider alignment.

Run Defense


Pro Football Focus defines a "run-stop" as any play that results in a "loss" for the offense. This is different than a simple tackle behind the line of scrimmage because a "loss" for the offense - or "win" for the defense - is when the offense fails to gain 40 percent of the line to gain on first-down, 50 percent on second-down, or the prevention of a first-down/touchdown on third- or fourth-down.

Against the run is where the former 49er has the edge over his predecessor. In 2014 and 2015, Buckner accumulated 75 total run stops, while Kinlaw managed to rack up 28 the last couple of years. Of course, snap counts are still important to consider, but even the rate favors the former as his run-stop percentage was about 9.9 percent and the latter's was about 5.2 percent.

Does the defensive scheme still play a factor here? To an extent as Kinlaw likely faced more double teams playing on the inside, making it more difficult for him to make impact plays as a run defender. However, it's hard to justify a 4.7 percent difference solely based on alignment. For example, Derrick Brown - who primarily played as a defensive tackle in a four-man front - recorded a rate of about 10.2 percent in 2018 and 2019.

Final Thoughts


While college production isn't the only factor when it comes to success at the next level, there is a correlation between the two. Kinlaw's pressure rate resembling Buckner's should be an encouraging sign for the 49ers, as the team's pass rush certainly took a hit with the latter's departure. Of course, the rookie has some work to do against then run but the NFL has become a passing league, meaning getting after the quarterback is more important than stuffing a running back at the line of scrimmage. While the South Carolina product has some big shoes to fill and it's unlikely that he'll be able to fit into them right away, I think he'll be able to minimize some of San Francisco's loss.