Buckner brings familiarity and versatility to 49ers defensive line

With the seventh pick in 2016 NFL Draft the San Francisco 49ers select, a familiar face for Chip Kelly.

DeForest Buckner was Kelly’s guy since his days at Punahou High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. The same high school President Barack Obama attended.

Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro recruited him to come and play on their defensive line. They paired him with fellow niner Arik Armstead.

“I was praying to be reunited with Arik Armstead, head coach Chip Kelly and coach Jerry Azzinaro. I think because they already knew who I was. Coach Kelly and coach Azzinaro, they both recruited me and everything. I feel like they already knew who I was as a person, so there wasn’t much to get to know. ”

Back in high school Buckner was a shell of the massive man he’d become at Oregon. Only weighing 230 pounds. During his tenure at Oregon he’d bulk up to a hulking 6 feet 7 inches and 300 pounds. Terrifying opposing offensive lines.

Throughout his tenure in college he didn’t just improve his body, but drastically improved his game season after season. Especially from his junior to senior year. More than doubling his sack total. Having it go from four sacks in 2014, skyrocketing to 10.5 sacks in 2015.

How He Fits

The fit, is perfect.

Unlike Armstead who was considered a project coming out, Buckner is the complete package with a few flaws in his game, who has the stats to back it up.

“We’re both similar in size and everything. We both played in the same scheme. I feel like I’m really aggressive. Arik’s aggressive too.”

The 49ers run a 3-4 base defense. Buckner is the best pure five technique in this draft. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the best interior defensive lineman in the draft class, not once posting a negative rating last season.

This past season the 49ers visibly missed having good old Justin Smith opening lanes for pass rushers with that classic TE stunt.

Buckner may not be as strong as Smith was, but his athleticism and hand work is what makes him special. Buckner says he likes to trick opposing lineman with his versatile skill-set.

“I like to use my hands a lot in the pass-rush game. I also really like to use a lot of power in my game too, but also at the same time when guys expect power I’m using my athleticism, because I’m pretty athletic for my size.”

That athleticism for his size, is a five second 40-yard-dash and 32-inch vertical jump.  And those pass rushing skills he mentioned speak for themselves. He led the Pac-12 in sacks with 10.5, granting him Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2015.

Where he needs to improve

With his height and length he tends to get too high in his stance at times. Causing him to lose leverage against offensive lineman.

Coming up too high after the snap gives an offensive lineman a big target to get their hands under to redirect their opponent. It’s all about leverage in the trenches and even an inch can give your opponent the advantage.

Another one of his weaknesses is dealing with stronger opponents. Most offensive lineman in the spread orientated Pac-12 aren’t as strong as NFL offensive lineman. If you watch his tape against Michigan State he struggles against new Tennessee Titans Left Tackle Jack Conklin. Conklin strength and will was too much at times for Buckner and that’s a major concern.

These problems are easily fixable  with just more technique to get him to maintain a consistent base height when coming off the snap.

And his problems with Conklin may have been due to the fact that Buckner will have more success against interior offensive lineman than tackles. As a five technique in the 49ers scheme he’s more than likely to see a guard than a tackle. He’s more suited in that position rather than going against an offensive tackle all game.

Also Conklin is no slouch going eighth overall to the Titans.

Final Verdict

Overall Buckner is solid fit for the 49ers. He gives them depth on a defensive line that already has Quinton Dial, Ian Williams and Armstead. He also adds that much-needed pass-rush that you don’t see from an interior lineman.

Buckner gives the 49ers and Chip Kelly a versatile front for years to come.

Grade: A