2016 NFL Draft: Why The 49ers Should Target DL DeForest Buckner In The First Round

Dec 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive end DeForest Buckner (44) celebrates after a sack in the second quarter against the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive end DeForest Buckner (44) celebrates after a sack in the second quarter against the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers should target University of Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL draft in order to reinvigorate their anemic pass rush and bolster their defense.

The San Francisco 49ers seventh pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft needs to be focused on the pass rush.

I have to deviate from my colleagues and fans who wish to choose a quarterback in the first round of the draft because having a quality pass rush and building a team from the trenches out is most important for a team who was 29th in the league at the pass rush and 31st in the league at blocking the pass rush.

The 49ers and general manager Trent Baalke should target University of Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner as that guy. He has the frame and build of a pro-typical 3-4 defensive end and was the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the year for 2015 and USA Today First Team All American. Buckner’s NFL.com draft profile characterizes Buckner:

"Buckner has the body type of a classic 3-­4 defensive end who can control the point of attack with length and power, but he has above average pass rush potential for that position which figures to push him into the early stages of round one. Buckner has similar power to former teammate Arik Armstead, but is a much better pass rusher and has a chance to become a dominant force in the NFL."

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report characterized Buckner as a defensive end or defensive tackle that is “versatile enough to slide around the line and threaten the offense from multiple positions.” Buckner is a five technique defensive in Oregon’s 3-4 defensive scheme Miller says is a “Day 1 starter.”

First we’ll need a simple breakdown of his role as the five-technique defensive end/three-technique defensive tackle in Oregon’s 3-4 defense.

The 3-4 defense has been around the NFL since the early 1970s, though more and more teams today are currently employing it or a hybrid of it. The 3-4 allows the three-down linemen to take on individual offensive lineman or rush a gap and create confusion while a blitzing linebacker rushes the other gap.

3-4 base
3-4 base /

3-4 defensive linemen are typically bigger with great length, allowing them to leverage their rushing assignments and create holes for the smaller linebackers. The ability of the 3-4 defensive lineman to occupy a space is crucial for a defense in both the pass and run.

Think back to how well former defensive end Justin Smith occupied space and sometimes took on two blockers to free up former 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

(Note: The below gif does not actually depict the 49ers in a 3-4 front, but rather their “nickel” defense, where they substitute out a defensive lineman for an extra defensive back. However, the same rules and gap technique still apply).

Smith Sack
Smith Sack /

Gif Source: NFL GameRewind

The defensive ends in a base 3-4 align in a “five technique” with the defensive (nose) tackle in a “zero technique.” In the traditional, old-school 3-4, the three defensive linemen will use a “2-gap” technique, meaning they play two gaps, one on either side of the linemen depending on the direction of the play.

But as you will see when in the next break down of a 3-4 “under-front,” there are variations of the defense that will use “1-gap” principles while the linebackers “fill” the remaining gap or “scrape” over the top to the next gap.

3-4 under
3-4 under /

Buckner caused a lot of mayhem in the backfields of his Pac-12 opponents this past season, enough to earn him First-Team All-American by USA Today and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Why was he so effective? He leveraged his technique and strength that’s so commonly seen in today’s top NFL 3-4 linemen.

Let’s go to the tape and examine the play that defines his characteristics, though there are many.

Late in the third quarter of the Oregon Ducks vs. Washington Huskies game, the Oregon defense is lined up in the 3-4 “Eagle” front where the defensive ends play the 4-I technique or on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackles and the nose guard playing the zero technique heads-up on the center. Buckner is the left end, No. 44.

buckner2 /

Image source: ESPN College Football

The pre-snap look shows a potential blitzing linebacker. But Oregon fakes the blitz, causing the left guard to double-team the right defensive end. The result gives the Oregon defensive line a furious four-man pass rush favoring the side away from the fake blitz.

buckner 3
buckner 3 /

Image source: ESPN College Football

The fake also gives Oregon’s defensive line a distinct technique and leverage advantage as the Huskies quarterback fixates on his nearest read, waiting for him to get open while the pocket collapses around him.

The quick collapse came from Buckner, who skillfully and aggressively controlled his lineman by the arms with his rip move and getting his hips around him and essentially shoving him to the side.

buckner4 /

Image source: ESPN College Football

The result of the play was a sack and an 8 yard loss. Here it is in real time. And thanks to the ESPN College Football broadcast, Buckner gets circled in yellow.

D Buckner Sack
D Buckner Sack /

Gif source: ESPN College Football

There are many other plays Buckner made like this throughout the season, but this exemplifies his best traits all in one play. It should be noted that the biggest criticism is that he does tend to play with a higher-than-normal pad level, not ideal for an attacking defensive lineman.

However, championship teams in the NFL are built now with a formidable pass rush. The ability to make quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson uncomfortable in the pocket is what separates the good teams from the bad.

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Nowhere was this more apparent than in the very recent Super Bowl run by the Denver Broncos. Their ability to make the NFL MVP uncomfortable for four quarters proved to be the difference.

In the 49ers 2012 season culminating in a Super Bowl loss, the pass rush that dominated all season long against QBs Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan was virtually non-existent in the final game against the Ravens due to key injuries sustained by Justin Smith and Aldon Smith late in the season.

Since then the the 49ers have seen their fair share of talent depart the roster at the defensive line with Justin Smith retiring, Ray McDonald being cut and Ian Williams being injured. Through the draft they added DL Quinton Dial and DE Tank Carradine in 2013, DE/OLBAaron Lynch in 2014 and DL Arik Armstead in 2015.

Buckner would be another great addition to solidify a defensive line that will need to get stronger in the NFC West where every divisional game is decided in the trenches.

His time under Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich gives him the advantage of playing on a defense with high powered offense as he likely already knows what it takes to succeed at that tempo and will be used that game speed. Buckner has the tools and skills and would be a welcome addition to a team in need of strengthening the front seven.

With the seventh pick, the 49ers should select DeForest Buckner of Oregon.

Next: FanSided Community Mock Draft & Niner Noise Selection for 49ers

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.