The San Francisco 49ers had a lot of problems in 2016, but one bright spot was the performance of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. He missed one game due to injury, but still managed to lead all NFL defensive linemen in snaps. The Chip Kelly offense resulted in a big boost in snaps, but he showed some growth throughout.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his 2016 All-Rookie team on Friday, and he included Buckner along his defensive line. He slotted him at defensive end, alongside Joey Bosa and Yannick Ngakoue. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was listed in that role. Buckner was moved all around the line, but was more defensive tackle than defensive end in the 49ers 3-4. Sure, he was a 3-4 defensive end, but that role is different than a 4-3 defensive end.
Kiper had this to say about the defensive ends:
I'm going to cheat a little here and go with three defensive ends and only one defensive tackle. You already know about Bosa. He's a machine. Buckner played almost 1,000 snaps for the 49ers and was one of their most consistent defenders. He had six sacks and 73 tackles. Ngakoue was a little up and down but finished with eight sacks and an interception.
Chris Biderman made a good point about Buckner in discussing these rankings. He pointed to the issues with high pad level that arose from the extra work he had to deal with. The 49ers defense was a mess, particularly against the run, and the next general manager and head coach will have their hands full trying to rebuild the unit. Fortunately there are a few interesting pieces to include in this rebuild.
One of those pieces could be cornerback Rashard Robinson. Kiper’s all-rookie cornerbacks are James Bradberry, Brian Poole, and Jalen Ramsey. Robinson worked his way into a prominent role on the defense early in the season, leaping Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser on the depth chart. He took over opposite Tramaine Brock when Jimmie Ward suffered a couple injuries. Heading into the 2017 season, he figures to have a prominent role. He suffered an MCL sprain in the middle of the season, and then an ankle injury in the season finale, so that will be something to track moving forward. But he has a big opportunity in front of him moving forward.