DeForest Buckner: Everything You Need to Know About 49ers New DE
By Rob Lowder
With the seventh pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, one of the most dominant and disruptive collegiate defenders in the nation.
“If you’re building a defensive lineman, that is what you build — 6-7, 300 pounds, plays angry,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, via CBS Sports Dan Brugler. “When he doesn’t want to be blocked, he doesn’t get blocked.”
Those were the words of a rival head coach, acknowledging the nearly unstoppable force that is the 49ers new defensive end, DeForest Buckner.
Interestingly enough, David Shaw was also the head coach of another 49ers first-round pick, guard Joshua Garnett, whom met Buckner on November 15, 2015.
Pro Football Focus detailed the matchup:
"Coming into this week’s Oregon-Stanford showdown, DeForest Buckner was the highest-graded interior defender in the nation going up against Joshua Garnett, the highest-graded guard in the nation."
A true clash of the titans.
To the tune of a sack and three quarterback hits, Buckner left Stanford with the victory, both in his battle with Garnett and on the scoreboard.
During his senior season alone, facing a steady stream of both double and triple-teams, Buckner racked up 83 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
However, this type of domination is the standard for Buckner. The Oregon standout left his college career with a total of 232 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 18 sacks.
“If you’re building a defensive lineman, that is what you build.” Stanford’s David Shaw
He was also voted the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, 1st-Team All-America, 1st-Team Pac-12 and much more.
A family man hailing from the state of Hawaii, Buckner is described as being a quiet warrior:
“Once he steps on the football field, he’s a different guy altogether,” defensive coach Ron Aiken said, via ESPN’s Chantel Jennings. “But you would never know it off the field.”
Buckner now finds himself on a 49ers defense that desperately needs his warrior mentality, as it ranks near the bottom of the NFL in both defending the run and sacking or pressuring the quarterback.
Buckner excels at both.
With 34″ arms and the largest hands ever measured at the combine, 11 3/4″, Buckner has the frame of an elite defensive prospect.
He uses his long, powerful wingspan to initiate contact with offensive lineman and quickly gain control over the matchup. He excels at stacking the blocker, shedding him and making the tackle, as seen below in his encounter with the offensive lineman drafted one pick after Buckner, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin.
Representing the largest stride from his junior to senior season, despite the added attention, Buckner also demonstrated the ability to be highly disruptive against the pass.
His three-foot long arms batted down 10 passes throughout his collegiate career.
Buckner uses his height and speed to routinely drive blockers backwards into the quarterback or toss them aside. Buckner frustrated offensive lineman to the point of desperation, as seen below as the Cal guard attempts to go low against Buckner to no avail:
Buckner also possesses an outstanding motor, playing over 80% of Oregon’s defensive snaps and more than any college football player on either side of the football.
Yes, Buckner played more football than another other collegiate player in 2015.
He is also versatile enough to line up in any of the defensive fronts employed by the 49ers.
Buckner’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.
At 6’7″, Buckner’s height allows him the leverage to dominate smaller offensive lineman, but if not used properly, results in a high pad-level that creates lost power and stalled attacks.
As the age-old football phrase goes: “The lowest man always wins.”
Additionally, Buckner struggles to maintain ground when confronted with double-teams.
While less frequent in his senior season, Buckner has a habit of turning his shoulder into the double-team, immediately surrendering his pad level and any leverage to the offensive lineman.
In the 49ers 3-4 defense, to be detailed shortly, Buckner will be asked to more effectively absorb these double-teams in the hopes of freeing up outside linebackers or blitzes to pressure the quarterback.
Even with these deficiencies that can easily be remedied by NFL-level coaching, Buckner wins far more often than he loses.
In today’s NFL, scheme versatility is key and as previously eluded, Buckner is as versatile as they come.
The 49ers, under newly-hired defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, still project to use the same 3-4 defense they have in the past.
To learn about this defense and its many variations, Niner Noise’s own Rich Madrid takes us into outstanding detail on what to expect defensively from the 49ers in the upcoming season.
In a standard 3-4 defense, pictured above, Buckner projects to occupy the right defensive end (DE) location. In this formation, Buckner will primarily be required to occupy blocks, diagnose the play and stop the run.
“Good chase skills and hustle to catch ballcarriers in pursuit. Uses his upper body and initial momentum to generate push off the snap.” Dan Brugler states, “Rarely met by single blocks, attracting double-teams or chips. Uses his length to swallow ballcarriers as a tackler and drive them backwards.
As NFL offenses have evolved into using more three and four wide receiver sets, defenses have adjusted into what are called “nickel” and “dime” formations, in which there are now five or six defensive backs on the field, respectively.
While in the nickel defense, pictured above, Buckner would again occupy the right DE location. While in this formation, Buckner’s primary responsibility would be to collapse the pocket and disrupt the offenses ability to throw, as nickel is primarily used during passing downs.
NFL’s Lance Zierlein describes Buckner’s effectiveness during these situations:
"Light went on as pass rusher in 2015. Generated top-end production by combining his power and dynamic athletic traits. Improved his pad level as rusher creating dominating pocket push that he was able to convert into sacks and knockdowns."
If his collegiate output is any indication, we still may not have seen the full extent of Buckner’s abilities.
As general manager Trent Baalke’s marquee selection, Buckner will be an immediate impact player as a rookie, both on and off the field.
DeForest represents the type of character that teams strive for. An element that the 49ers sorely miss and have begun to rebuild.
He is a leader by example.
He will be relied upon heavily to help remedy the 49ers defensive woes and help it return to it’s once dominant form.
In a pre-draft piece, Pro Football Focus details Buckner’s impact:
"Buckner is a player that can fit in any defensive front and make a huge impact inside, and brings with him the versatility to move around and cause problems. He has consistently proven to be more disruptive than people expect him to be when you tally up all of the plays he makes, and he is one of the very best players in this draft."
Buckner’s on-field impact may also be magnified by whom he is now joining on the 49ers defensive front:
2015 first-round selection and former Oregon teammate, Arik Armstead.
Buckner and Armstead now represent the foundation of a young defensive core that has been the focus of significant investment throughout recent drafts.
In an NFL where disrupting an offensive game-plan is absolutely essential, both Buckner and Armstead are critical cogs in the championship machine.
Offensive lineman will be leaving a huddle, returning to a football that is in the shadow of two 6’7″, 300 pound bookends that are near-clones of one another, both with a knack for embarrassing their opponents.
A brilliantly terrifying prospect that is about to become a reality.
Next: 5 Second-Year Players to Watch in Training Camp
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of CBSsports.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.