The San Francisco 49ers did not have a lot of players show up in Pro Football Focus’ Top 101 players, but it was fitting that DeForest Buckner ranked highest. Buckner arrived at No. 38 on the list, which also marked his first appearance on it.
Buckner finished the season with 19 quarterback hits, which led all interior defenders. He also ranked fifth among interior defenders with 53 total pressures, and was top six in combined sacks and hits. He finished with only three sacks, but with a talent infusion along the line, he stands to see that number improve.
Buckner is entering the third year of his rookie contract. That means he is eligible for a contract extension in 2019. That is also when the 49ers will have to decide on his fifth year option. Barring anything dramatic or a contract extension next offseason, picking up the fifth year option will be a no-brainer.
Given that Buckner is at least a year away, if not two, from a potential contract extension, it’s difficult to project what it might look like. There are five defensive interior players ranked ahead of Buckner on PFF’s Top 101. They include Aaron Donald (#1), Fletcher Cox (#19), Geno Atkins (#20), Kawann Short (#26), Ndamukong Suh (#36).
Suh is currently the highest paid interior lineman, but really he’s just a place-holder until Donald gets his next contract. Donald is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and is entering his fifth year. The option is worth $6,892,000, and while an extension does not seem close, at some point Donald will become the highest paid defensive player in the league.
Buckner has the talent to put together a couple monster seasons the next two years. This year will tell us plenty more about him given what the 49ers are likely to invest on the defense around him. And in a year or two, we could be looking at a deal second only to Jimmy Garoppolo on the team’s list of highest paid players. I don’t know what that number will look like given how much could change over the next two years, but it’s safe to say DeForest Buckner is in a good position to cash in the next two years.