Kevin Givens Could Be the Next 49ers' Defensive Player to Breakout

Kevin Givens played the role as a depth piece on the 49ers' defensive line this past season, but he's poised to earn a starting role next year.
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Kevin Givens played the role as a depth piece on the 49ers' defensive line this past season, but he's poised to earn a starting role next year.

2020 49ers' Interior Defensive Lineman Games Played - Snap Counts - Averages

  • Javon Kinlaw: 14 games - 547 defensive snaps - 39.07 snaps per game
  • D.J. Jones: 14 Games - 420 defensive snaps - 30 snaps per game
  • Kevin Givens: 13 Games - 387 defensive snaps - 29.7 snaps per game
  • Kentavius Street: 15 Games - 380 defensive snaps - 25.3 snaps per game
    • Snap counts are from Pro Football Focus

Looking ahead to 2021, three of the four starting spots on the defensive line are solidified on base downs. The unit will feature Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, and Nick Bosa. Armstead and Bosa will hold down the edges on base downs, while Kinlaw and a new running mate will take care of business on the inside.

The previous running-mate has been D.J. Jones for each of the past two seasons. In 2019, Jones started alongside DeForest Buckner on a defense widely regarded as the best in the game. This past season, it was Jones and Kinlaw starting on another tremendous defensive unit.

Jones is scheduled for free agency, and it doesn't appear he'll be re-signing with the team. Earlier this month, Jones tweeted, "Know your worth."

With Jones likely out of the equation, insert Givens. Taking a look at their snap counts mentioned above counts, Givens was nearly playing as much as Jones this past season anyway. He is by far the most logical solution towards filling the void Jones will likely leave.

Givens and Jones are similar in stature and are both on the smaller end of the prototypical defensive linemen scale. Givens stands 6'1" - 285 lbs, while Jones stands 6'0" - 305 lbs.

What makes Givens look so promising is that he appears to be developing quicker than Jones did early on in his career.

Jones, a 6th-round pick in 2017, took two full years to develop into an impactful defensive lineman. Through his first 19 games, across the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Jones only produced 27 tackles (19 solo), two tackles for loss, and one quarterback hit. It wasn't until his third season in the league when he recorded his first sack. This past year, Jones recorded a career-high seven tackles for loss (tied for second on the team) and three sacks (tied for third).

Givens, an undrafted free agent signing from 2019, spent most of that season on the practice squad. The only game he appeared in was the Week 17 game against the Seahawks. He picked up two quarterback pressures and made a run stop against Marshawn Lynch, despite only playing 10 snaps.

Though he was quiet during the regular season, there was a lot of hype around Givens for his outstanding preseason. That hype grew even more after Brian Baldinger posted one of his famous "Baldy Breakdowns," shouting out Givens for his stellar play.

Fast forward to the 2020 season, and despite there not being any preseason, Givens transitioned wonderfully towards becoming a regular contributor on the defensive line.

Givens' 2020 Stats:

  • 13 Games (1 Start)
  • 19 Combined Tackles (14 solo)
  • 7 Pressures
  • 5 Tackles For Loss (tied for fifth on the team)
  • 3 Quarterback Hits
  • 2 Quarterback Knockdowns
  • 1 Sack
  • 1 Fumble Recovery
    • Source: Pro Football Reference

Givens' 2020 season, his first full season in the NFL, was better than either of Jones's first two in the league.

What's most exciting is that Givens has been a more efficient pass rusher than Jones. However, his efficiency hasn't led to matching Jones' sack production.

Pass Rushing Stats Since 2018: Jones (35 Games) - Givens (14 Games)

  • Pressures: Jones 12 - Givens 9
  • Hurries: Jones 6 - Givens 6
  • Quarterback Hits: Jones 6 - Givens 3
  • Quarterback Knockdowns: Jones 1 - Givens 2
  • Sacks: Jones 5 - Givens 1
    • Source Pro Football Reference

Despite playing 21 fewer games than Jones during the past three years, Givens' has exceeded, matched, or is close to reaching all of Jones' pass-rushing stats. The only number that's not close is the sack number, but remember, Jones' didn't record his first sack until Year 3. Givens is blatantly the more productive rusher.

If and when Jones leaves in free agency, not only do they have a replacement on their hands, they have a complete upgrade. An upgrade that's a full two years younger at that. Givens will be 24 when the season starts, while Jones will be 26.

Givens had some big moments in 2020, particularly on the road against the Rams. He had a tackle for a loss early in the game, recovered a fumble, hit Jared Goff on a pass intercepted by Kinlaw, which was returned for a touchdown.

He can make plays and should have more playing time to continue to do so next season.

Don't be surprised if Givens is the next breakout contributor on this 49ers' defense. 

Follow me on Twitter: @NinerNick_22