The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2017 season with plenty of question marks about its defense, including who would emerge as franchise cornerstones. Second year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was viewed as a potential cornerstone, but he had to build on a solid first year.
While the stats do not show it, Buckner did build on his rookie season in a big way. Buckner only has three sacks and 60 total tackles, but he is putting together a performance that is worthy of league-wide mention. He is consistently in the backfield on both pass and run plays, showing up among the league leaders in quarterback pressures week in and week out.
On Thursday, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh did not beat around the bush in describing what he thinks of Buckner as the team’s best overall defender.
“I think he’s one of the best in all of football. He’d be one of the best for every single team in football. Not trying to sugarcoat it for him. He is dominant in every facet of football. The scary part is he can still get better with pad level, he can still get better with hands, he can still get better at creating edges in pass rush. But, as far as where he’s at now for a second-year player, as young as he is, knock on wood, the durability, he’s unique, he’s special.”
Buckner was not among the team’s Pro Bowl alternates, but Saleh is not at all concerned about that.
“You never really want to get caught up in the Pro Bowl. If you truly watch tape, you’re really dissecting the player, and I think the players are starting to realize it too, that the Pro Bowl is really not the big picture. It’s a compliment from your peers, but I think Buck has bigger goals in mind in terms of what he’s trying to accomplish as an individual. Pro Bowl, it’s a nice reward I guess, but it’s not something that I’m sure defines him.”
The 49ers defense is likely to get a further infusion of talent this offseason between the cap space and draft picks available. I would expect the team to add some help in the pass rush and at least one or two cornerbacks. Additions at both positions will only serve to help Buckner. He takes on numerous double teams, and adding additional weapons will free up Buckner that much more.
I don’t think he’s ever going to be a league-leading sack guy because he will face a lot of the double teams as the best defender on the team. But he can help make other players that much better. Next year could be a fun one for this defense!