49ers NFL Draft preview: Defensive line replacement for DeForest Buckner?

DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
DeForest Buckner #99 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers defensive line took a substantial hit when the team traded away DeForest Buckner, and the NFL Draft only offers so many replacement options.

There’s no other way around it: The San Francisco 49ers defensive line is worse now than it was before the team traded away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts last March.

Granted, getting the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft back in return is no slouch. Yet there’s no one player, currently in the draft or on the Niners roster, who can adequately replace and replicate the kind of production Buckner generated during his four years in San Francisco.

For now, at least on paper, the 49ers will use a rotation up front to eat up the snaps Buckner would have otherwise seen had he remained on the roster.

Yet there’s also a chance general manager John Lynch uses one of the team’s current seven draft picks to find Buckner’s long-term replacement, perhaps even grabbing someone early at No. 13 overall.

Either way, the defensive line still remains one of San Francisco’s better positional groups heading towards the 2020 draft. Still, there are some ways the team could improve this unit when the Niners’ number is called between Rounds 1 through 7.

49ers moves in NFL free agency

The Buckner trade was the big blockbuster move, and it makes sense why the 49ers executed it. While sacrificing immediate talent, clearing some considerable cap space both immediately and in what the Niners would have eventually had to pay helps ensure a better chance for elongated success.

NFL free agency didn’t provide a lot of options, and there wasn’t a lot to be had anyway. San Francisco re-signed defensive lineman Ronald Blair to a one-year deal, banking on the hope he can return well enough from a torn ACL suffered last year.

Additionally, the Niners brought aboard pass-rusher Kerry Hyder as a rotational piece.

Needs in the NFL Draft

There are two ways to look at this. For starters, the 49ers could be willing to accept the fact Buckner’s departure means a worse D-line in 2020, putting more pressure on depth players like Blair, Solomon Thomas and Jullian Taylor to absorb more snaps.

But it’s also possible the Niners are looking at finding Buckner’s replacement early, which would delay the need to reinforce other positions but would possibly prevent any massive drop off in production up front.

Especially if a top-end NFL Draft prospect essentially picks up close to where Buckner left off.

There aren’t too many 3-technique options late in the draft, at least of high caliber, which makes this a difficult proposition to an extent.

And as always, there’s still a need to reinforce San Francisco’s depth up front, which was tested a lot late last season.

2020 NFL Draft outlook

Should the 49ers want to address Buckner’s departure early, the likeliest of prospect targets would be South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. While Auburn’s Derrick Brown is the top-ranked interior D-lineman in this year’s class, he’ll likely be long gone by the time the 49ers’ first pick is announced.

TCU’s Ross Blacklock is a prospect to watch on the fringes of Rounds 1 and 2, while Alabama’s Raekwon Davis might be worth targeting if San Francisco picks up an early third-round pick.

Any of these players could potentially fill Buckner’s void immediately, although it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Niners reinforce the depth chart by adding a lineman or two on day three of the draft.

If so, keep an eye on Arkansas’ McTelvin Agim as a potential backup nose tackle.

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Overall, San Francisco’s defensive line isn’t a top pressing need in this NFL Draft. But the team could feel the loss of Buckner in a big way, especially if it chooses to rely solely on the rotation already in place to alleviate the trade.