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Player Spotlight: DeForest Buckner

A detailed look at DeForest Buckner's fantasy prospects for 2016.

BUCKNER TO THE BAY

Another Duck, another Chip Kelly draft pick. Kelly has drafted many of the players that he had once recruited and coached at Oregon and DeForest Buckner is the latest example of that.

Though defensive line is one of the few strengths of the 49ers, San Francisco decided to take a best-player-available approach when they selected him at seventh overall. Kelly later added in a radio interview, "He was on the top of the board whether I was here or wasn't here. No matter who it was, any team in this league would tell you that DeForest Buckner is a top ten kind of draft pick."

Buckner appeared in every game for Oregon from his freshman campaign on and showed steady production improvement each year. In his senior season, he logged 45 solo tackles and 38 assists. An eye-popping 17 of those tackles went for a loss. He also recorded 10.5 sacks, five passes defended, and a fumble recovery. His efforts were enough to secure the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award and to finish as finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, an honor that goes to the nation’s top defensive end.

GOING BUCK WILD

Calais Campbell is the player to whom Buckner is most often compared and that is a high compliment. At 6’7, 291 pounds, Buckner is a physical specimen with an impressive wingspan and huge hands. His length not only makes him difficult to block, it also allows him to bat down passes with regularity at the line. What’s even more intriguing about Buckner’s physique is that scouts believe he can add more to his frame. Aside from impressive functional strength and quickness, Buckner plays with a relentless motor. His hand usage is good and he has fluid, quick feet. He’s an excellent pass rusher for an interior guy. In other words, he’s not there just to eat blocks, though he does often demand a double team from his opponents. He gets many tackles for being an interior guy, too. If asked to do so, Buckner has also demonstrated the versatility to play standing up.

As we’ve seen, a byproduct of Chip Kelly’s up-tempo system is that the defense will spend more time on the field. In 2014, when the Eagles’ offense was running smoothly, the defense ranked second in the league in number of defensive plays with 1,113. In 2015, when the Eagles’ offense was doing very poorly, the defense ranked first in the league in number of defensive plays with 1,148. Rain or shine, the trend will continue with the 49ers. That’s actually a boon for Buckner, because he’ll have more opportunity for statistics in the early going.

“DEFOREST-ATION”

There is very little on which to critique Buckner. Leverage problems are Buckner’s biggest weakness. He should work on keeping his pads lower and squaring up when facing offensive lineman. If he does not improve in this area, he will be blocked more often or knocked off balance at the next level. Buckner has a powerful bull rush, but he could add to his other pass rush moves, such as a rip move and a swim move. Don’t doubt that the 49ers new Defensive Line Coach Scott Brown will use his 35 years of college defensive line coaching experience to help Buckner tighten up his techniques. Unlike J.J. Watt (to whom Buckner has been erroneously compared), Buckner does not always have the closing speed to finish off mobile quarterbacks when he beats his blocker around the edge.

POSITIVES

  • Buckner fits well in the 49ers 3-4.

  • He should be an instant starter opposite of Glenn Dorsey and Arik Armstead.

  • The up-tempo Kelly system should create additional snaps on defense for Buckner.

NEGATIVES

  • He needs to work on leverage to reach his ceiling in the NFL.

  • Buckner has a great bull rush, but needs to refine some of his other moves (rip, club, etc).

  • He may miss some sack opportunities due to poor closing speed around the edge.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Normally, a 3-4 end is not one to target for IDP; but much like Calais Campbell, Buckner is an exception to the rule. While not expecting this to be his immediate impact level, it is plausible to project this as his eventual ceiling. Buckner is currently a late-second-round pick in mixed rookie drafts. Getting him in that range or later is a fair deal for dynasty IDP owners.

2016 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

31

15

5

0

0

1

0

0

79.25

AARON RUDNICKI'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

34

12

5

1

1

3

0

0

90.50

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus adores Buckner:

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.

Bleacher Report lists the following criticism of Buckner in their scouting report:

The biggest issue on film is a top-heavy playing style that has Buckner lunging and leaning on blockers in the run game. He’ll attack off the snap with a two-handed shove but doesn’t always move his feet to match his hands. This allows blockers to wall Buckner down from the side.