The San Francisco 49ers were fairly quiet during free agency this season, signing OG Zane Beadles and QB Thad Lewis. However, they were plenty active in the draft, adding at least one starter, and likely several significant rotational players. Joshua Garnett will likely move into the starting lineup at one of the guard spots. DeForest Buckner will be at least a significant rotational guy on the defensive line, with the possibility of moving into the starting lineup fairly quickly. Ronald Blair could be the day three surprise, and if Will Redmond is healthy by training camp, he could very well end up getting some opportunities at cornerback.
Pro Football Focus took a look at the offseason of player acquisitions, and came up with a list of 20 newcomers who can make an immediate impact in 2016. They ranked DeForest Buckner No. 15, and eighth among rookies. PFF has been really high on Buckner this offseason, and they had this to say about the addition:
The defensive line is one of the few [strengths] on the 49ers’ roster, but Buckner was easily the best player available at seventh overall. He dominated in Pac-12 play, earning easily the highest grade amongst interior defensive lineman in this class. Quinton Dial and Glenn Dorsey are solid five-techniques, but neither has anywhere close to the potential of Buckner. He’ll also be reunited with Arik Armstead; together they can form a terrifying duo of interior pass-rushers.
The rookies listed ahead of Buckner included Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland, Bengals cornerback William Jackson III, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Colts center Ryan Kelly, Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman, and Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
The 49ers have been working Buckner with the third team defensive line, but the expectation is he will quickly work his way up. The injury statuses of Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey will likely impact his early playing time. It comes down to how the 49ers rotate along the line. And how much time will Jim O'Neil and company be willing to give Buckner early on out of the gates?
During the Trent Baalke era, the 49ers have been a bit all over the place with the playing time for their first round picks. Armstead got time but was still focused on a role in passing downs. Jimmie Ward was the slot corner from day one. Eric Reid was the starting free safety right away. A.J Jenkins was, well, A.J. Jenkins. Aldon Smith spent his first year almost exclusively as a nickel defensive end. I don't see how Buckner doesn't get plenty of work his rookie year, but the ceiling for that first year remains to be seen.