The way things are right now, second-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is the best and most-consistent player the 49ers have on their roster.
Buckner is currently ranked the No. 5 overall interior defensive lineman this season, per Pro Football Focus, with an overall grade of 90.0. That’s elite status right there.
And while Buckner hasn’t been rewarded with lofty sack totals — just 1.5 in eight games — his pocket-wrecking abilities sure have been difference makers. And the Niners need as much of that as they can get.
What the 49ers Are Doing Well
Putting Buckner at the 3-technique spot along San Francisco’s defensive line was smart. This has forced opponents’ offensive lines into situations where they need to double Buckner with both a guard and tackle, opening up potential pass-rush lanes off the edge.
EDGE production has been a problem, and we’ll get to that in a second, but another area of focus is rookie defensive end Solomon Thomas.
Thomas sprained his MCL in Week 8, which will force him to miss some time, but we’ve seen some flashes of brilliance from the first-round draft pick. Keyword being flashes, of course.
Overall, San Francisco’s D-line has done a good job defending against the run, which was such a problem a year ago. The Niners are 17th in this category, according to Football Outsiders, which is up from 29th in 2016.
What Needs Improvement
Staying healthy is an obvious concern, as the team has lost defensive tackle/EDGE Arik Armstead to an elongated hand injury.
But the biggest issue, by far, has been the pass rush. Or lack of it.
Coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense calls for its premier pass-rusher to operate out of the right-defensive end position, or LEO. The Niners have tried to rotate Armstead, Aaron Lynch and Elvis Dumervil out of this spot, but Dumervil has been the only one to stay healthy.
The crafty Dumervil leads the 49ers with 3.5 sacks, but he’s a situational pass-rusher at best this point in his career.
Lynch (calf) has been out of the lineup frequently, and the 49ers have yet to get consistent edge pressure throughout the season.