No. 1: Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner
It’s pretty safe to say DeForest Buckner is the 49ers’ top defensive player, from 2017 through now. And after a career-high 12.0 sacks and his first trip to the Pro Bowl, one can see why he’s so crucial entering 2019.
As Fourth and Nine’s Dylan DeSimone said, Buckner is essentially a “create-a-player,” whose presence does so much for his supporting cast.
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But there’s far more than just the name recognition, the Pro Bowl nod and Buckner’s first-round pedigree to justify him being the most important Niners defender this season.
Buckner will still occupy a vital run-stopping role, highlighted even more by what will likely be more interior runs this season. Yet what will wind up being more important is just how frequently opposing quarterbacks are focusing on getting the ball out quicker — the understandable response to so many teams trying to upgrade the edge rush.
Remember, the quickest direction to the quarterback is straight ahead, not around the edge. It’s why Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has become such a force.
The good news is San Francisco’s additions to the outside edge rush should help free up Buckner for more chances in 2019 — ones he didn’t necessarily have the last two seasons.