A couple of weeks ago we looked back at the NFL Draft profile of Jaquiski Tartt. Most of you felt like the profile was reasonably accurate. We’re moving on to the 2016 draft for the San Francisco 49ers. Two of the teams Day 3 picks made the news on Wednesday. WR Aaron Burbridge retired rather than reporting to the Denver Broncos training camp. CB Rashard Robinson issued a public apology. Robinson was suspended ten games with a substance abuse violation after several missed tests.
We are here to talk about the first-round pick from that draft. Leading up to the draft the Niners were connected to everyone from Myles Jack to Ronnie Stanley, to Paxton freaking Lynch. Talk about a bullet dodged there. I have been writing about the draft since 2014. Deforest Buckner was probably one of my biggest draft crushes during that stretch. I sat down and did a video about him with one of the brighter minds in the draft community. This is one of the rare instances where hindsight isn’t 20/20 when you look back at what I said.
I didn’t stop following him once he was drafted. His performance against the Seattle Seahawks a couple of years ago is still one of the most dominating games I can remember.
Deforest Buckner vs the fighting Tom Cable's. pic.twitter.com/yDVeUAuAgR— KP (@KP_Show) September 20, 2017
It’s easy for me to talk about, because I was right about him. I could easily dig up 15 other scouting reports where I was way off.
Rewind back to when Buckner was a prospect. What did the experts think? Here’s what now General Manager of the Oakland Raiders Mike Mayock said:
“Buckner reminds of the Cardinals’ Calais Campbell. He has power and length. Ideally, he’s a five-technique, which is the defense that San Francisco plays.” -- Mike Mayock
That was obviously before the 49ers switched to a 4-3 defense. Not that it matters, Buckner would likely be playing the same position either way. Here’s the strengths part:
STRENGTHS Impressive NFL-ready physique. Has natural strength and power in his hands and improved their effectiveness this year. Not a content player, Buckner plays with effort and will continue working hands and feet to improve his positioning. Light went on as pass rusher in 2015. Generated top-end production by combining his power and dynamic athletic traits. Improved his pad level as rusher creating dominating pocket push that he was able to convert into sacks and knockdowns. Rare tackle production for defensive lineman with 163 over last two seasons. Long arms and good play speed allow him maximum field coverage to tackle. Flexible upper body. Can flip shoulders, then hips around the edge of blockers allowing him to play on the other side of the line. Has size and athleticism for scheme versatility. Quick off the snap and difficult to cut off in run game.
I still remember the pushback. “Buckner plays too tall.” “He doesn’t have any pass rush moves.” Buckner is 6-foot-7. He’s always going to look like he’s playing tall. At Oregon, he was constantly in the backfield. I agree with a lot with Mayock here. One thing you noticed in college was Buckner rarely came off the field. You also saw that he played with the same energy on snap 74 as he did on snap 14. That spoke volumes to me, and I’m sure it did to the majority of teams that fell in love with him. Energy, strength, production, but still plenty of upside. That’s the type of player you take early in the draft.
How about his weaknesses?
WEAKNESSES Plays too tall after the snap. Pad level so high that it impacts ability to stop and change direction with necessary body control. Needs to bend more when penetrating in order to avoid redirect blocks. Will need to play with wider base to take on blockers on next level. Has habit of turning shoulders and getting knocked out of position rather than taking on blocks with squared up pads.
I like how Mayock described his issues with Buckner’s pad level and didn’t just leave it at his first sentence. That’s fair criticism, especially the last part about taking on blocks. In the draft circle, if you don’t like a player, you are going to show the same GIF over and over. There was one where Buckner got pancaked from playing too tall. So many people wrote him off because of one play.
Here’s the rest, including a mention from his current teammate:
SOURCES TELL US ”His comp is going to be Calais Campbell or Arik Armstead but I think he’s more talented coming out than either one of those guys. He’s twice the player Armstead was coming out.” - NFC Regional Scout
NFL COMPARISON Calais Campbell
BOTTOM LINE Headed into this season, Buckner was a traits prospect who flashed with quickness, strength and overall athleticism, but he put those traits together in 2015. Buckner has the body type of a classic 3-4 defensive end who can control the point of attack with length and power, but he has above average pass rush potential for that position which figures to push him into the early stages of round one. Buckner has similar power to former teammate Arik Armstead, but is a much better pass rusher and has a chance to become a dominant force in the NFL.
When a player gets compared to someone the caliber of Campbell, they better be pretty dang good. Buckner is on track. Now he needs to string a few seasons together. There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen, especially now that he has help on the edge.
Think back to the 2016 Draft when the 49ers were on the clock. Were you a fan of Buckner, or did you want someone else?