The San Francisco 49ers have many options in the first round of the NFL draft tonight. They can stay at their current pick of No. 7. They can move up or down, or they can trade one of their current players or acquire another player. However, if they stay put, they should be seeking University of Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.
The San Francisco 49ers defensive line is not the most worrisome area of the team, but it still needs help. Last year’s first-round pick Arik Armstead flashed some serious potential towards the end of the season. Stalwarts Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams are still good players, but they just can’t stay away from the medical room. Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine have not got over the hump yet.
Per Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, Buckner fits best in a 3-4 defensive scheme, and would make an ideal five technique 3-4 end in the 49ers scheme, per Todd McShay of ESPN.com, Buckner brings another A-level talent to the defensive line. When you pair him with Armstead, the interior of the D-line is covered by two young players who have the serious potential to become stars and anchor the defensive line for the next decade.
The 49ers defense struggled badly at times last season, especially against the run (29th in the NFL, at 126.3 yards per game). Buckner is best against the pass, but his run defense is not shabby, per Palazzolo:
No. 1 overall grade among interior defensive linemen, top pass rushing grade and eighth-highest grade against the run. Led all interior defensive linemen with 951 snaps, including two separate games in which he played over 100 snaps.
Buckner’s strengths in the run game include having the power to move blockers, the ability to clog running lanes, the ability to fight through traffic and locate the football, and quick hands to create pressure.
Another big benefit of Buckner is that he stays healthy — he played 53 games at Oregon over the last four seasons. His statistics were also very good — 232 total tackles, 36.0 tackles for loss, 18.0 sacks, 10 passes defended, and two forced fumbles.
Buckner improved every year at Oregon, which means he has worked hard and is a player on the rise. He is familiar with both head coach Chip Kelly and Armstead. His transition to the pro level would made easier with these connections.
His measurables are off the charts — 6’7″, 291 pounds, 11 3/4 inch hands, nearly 35 inch arms and a 32 inch vertical. His only disappointing number at the NFL combine was a 5.05 40-yard dash But at the position he plays in, speed is not a vital factor to success. He uses his strength to get to the quarterback.
A good summary of his prowess is shown below:
Both Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke prefer their “big” players, who can knock the “little guy” to the ground. Buckner more than fits the bill here, and supposedly, per Geoffrey C. Arnold of the Oregonian the 49ers “desperately” covet Buckner.
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If they do indeed want Buckner this badly, Baalke needs to be prepared to move up tonight. The San Diego Chargers are in play with the No. 3 pick, as are the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 5. If Buckner ranks as the best player on their draft board, with the plethora of picks in the bank, it wouldn’t take a king’s ransom to move from seven to three, or to five.
If the 49ers are unable to land Buckner, it is not the end of the world. They could still get a strong offensive tackle, or another D-line player (perhaps Ohio State’s Joey Bosa). Even though he is seen to be a better fit for the 4-3, his talent and work ethic is high enough to see him succeed in the 3-4 with the right guidance.
The 49ers need to hit on their first round pick tonight. Buckner would get the 49ers off to a great start in this year’s draft if they can nab him.