The building block of every great defense starts with a dominant stand-out type of player. He not only makes every else around him play better, but his ceiling continues to grow the more that he plays. In DeForest Buckner, the San Francisco 49ers have found that player.
Every great defense needs a player they can build around.
That player should make an impact every time he steps on the field.
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He should strike fear into every member of the opposing offense, and they should only run to his side when it’s completely necessary.
For many seasons that man has been Navarro Bowman. However, after two traumatic injuries in just four NFL seasons, it may be time to hand the torch to someone else.
Bowman will always be the heart and soul of the 49ers defense, but if they want to preserve his NFL career, somebody has to take the heat off of him.
So who will step up, and once they do, in hindsight what will it be about that player that made them so great?
Is it strength and awareness? An incredible pass rush maybe? In terms of finding that perfect player all these components are necessary.
However if you’re looking for a leader that can carry your defense, durability is what matters most.
You can’t make an impact for your team if you can’t stay on the field.
Defensive end DeForest Buckner is all of these things combined.
October 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs with the football against San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to the 2016 NFL season, former defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said he would be comfortable having Buckner play in 80 percent of the defensive snaps for the year. At seasons end his contribution was closer to 90 percent.
Out of 1,151 defensive snaps played for the season, Buckner lined up for 1006 of them. That’s an overall percentage of 87. That percentage breaks down even further to an average of 67 snaps per game.
That might not seem like a high snap count for the average fan, but for a rookie in Santa Clara those numbers speak volumes. Trent Baalke was famous for shelving his rookies on the bench and having them study game film.
This was a strategic move when the team was loaded with talent. However, after spending valuable draft picks on injured players, and failing to address needs created by retirement, the roster has many holes.
After an impressive senior season filled with consistency and 67 total defensive pressures, Buckner shows no signs of slowing down. Before the 2016 NFL Draft, Pro Football Focus described him as the most productive player in college football for the 2015 season. Following an incredible rookie year, it appears the trend has continued.
Out of his 15 games played as a rookie, Buckner accounted for over 90 percent of the snap count 11 times, three of those games he contributed on every play.
To increase the wow factor, take this into account. Only Olivier Vernon ranked higher in total snaps played by a defensive lineman.
It’s no secret that he had some big shoes to fill when coming into the league with San Francisco. After all, he’s been asked to hold down the right side of the defensive line. A spot that was recently vacated by a fan favorite, the “Cowboy” Justin Smith. Justin was not only the definition of a leader, he was the epitome of durability.
Buckner is not just an incredible start at revamping this once-dominant defense, it brings back a very important component to San Francisco, the 5-technique. It was a vital part of the defense that wreaked havoc for the other teams offensive line and gave the opposing quarterback happy feet.
For the pessimistic fan who feels that Buckner is setting himself up for a sophomore jinx, consider his college resume and already commanding pro career as proof that a dip in his productivity isn’t likely.