A first round selection for the 49ers in 2016, DeForest Buckner certainly proved his value (and toughness) during the course of a trying 2016 campaign for the franchise. Although the team failed to challenge for the playoffs, the team can use the season as an evaluation tool. Any assessment of the roster has to start with Buckner and his fellow defensive linemen (Oregon product Arik Armstead and 2017 rookie Solomon Thomas).
Buckner’s season was a massive workload and he was able to rise to the challenge with impressive endurance. Playing and starting 15 games, Buckner was on the field for 93% of the team’s defensive snaps (1007 plays) when active. Not only was he available, he was a productive member of the defensive front. Pro Football Focus credited Buckner with 35 defensive stops, 10 more than the next closest rookie and his 6.0 sacks were the third highest of a rookie pass rusher in 2016 (trailing only Joey Bosa’s 10.5 and Yannick Ngakoue’s 8.0).
Looking back to Buckner’s 2016 NFL Draft assessment, it’s apparent that his skill-set quickly translated to the NFL level.
Buckner’s success in 2016 will face a new transition in 2017 and beyond with the team transitioning to an even (4-man) front this upcoming season. Buckner’s traits in school were centered around length and versatility. San Francisco’s new defense could truly unlock Buckner’s ability to play as a mismatch weapon up front if the team’s coaching staff is willing to get creative and flexible with their personnel packages.
With the team investing in Soloman Thomas and seemingly hoping to play Arik Armstead in the “LEO” role; Buckner’s primary role looks to be coming from inside. Working inside, the team will hope that the final word of analysis from my 2016 report comes to fruition in a larger sample size:
“Buckner is scheme diverse but his best fit is likely as a 1-gap penetration player without having to be tasked with boundary responsibilities.”
Time will tell; but one thing is for certain. A team that is lacking in cornerstones to build around seems to have nailed one down with their first pick in 2016.