Heading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, the general consensus among draftniks is that Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is the top prospect among defensive linemen. However, as Pete Martini of The Statesman-Journal reported at Oregon’s March 10th pro day, Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner staked his claim to that title.
The 6’7”, 291-pound Buckner, who had 83 tackles and 10.5 sacks en route to winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last year, told Martini, “I think I’m the best defensive lineman in this draft. I just wanted to show the coaches again that I’m moving good and everything,” Buckner said. “Position drills are really a big thing for me. I can do all the little things they’re looking for.”
He also said that the feedback from scouts has been positive. “They said I’m looking good, looking fluid, and all the drills I did a really good job,” Buckner said. “I’m just taking it all in and trying to get better every day.”
That positive feedback has been coming in for some time, as 2015 marked the second consecutive season Buckner has hit double digits in sacks. There have been a number of comparisons made to Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, including by one NFC regional scout while speaking with Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
“His comp is going to be Calais Campbell or (former teammate) Arik Armstead,” the scout said, “but I think he’s more talented coming out than either one of those guys. He’s twice the player Armstead was coming out.”
Zierlein agrees that Buckner is a superior prospect to Armstead, who went 17th overall to the San Francisco 49ers last year. “Buckner has the body type of a classic 3-4 defensive end,” Zierlein wrote, “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.”
Most scouts may view Buckner as a 3-4 end, but as Dane Brugler of CBS Sports pointed out he demonstrated more than a little versatility in Eugene. “Buckner played primarily as a defensive end in Oregon’s 3-4 base,” Brugler said, “lining up as the four-, five- or six-technique, but also saw snaps inside in the A-gap or at nose tackle. He plays with explosive movements and terrific body control for his size, flashing heavy hands and initial power to be a disruptive force, although he’s still learning how to use his hands and string together rush moves.”
Add it all together, and Cris Collinsworth wrote for Pro Football Focus that he believes the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to take an Oregon pass-rusher for the second straight year. “Buckner is the most physically imposing player in the draft at 6-7 and 291 pounds,” Collinsworth said. “He is not a pure pass-rusher — and has more quickness than speed — but his slippery quickness, length, and size creates endless possibilities for Chip Kelly and the 49ers.”
“He has the durability to stay on the field as well,” Collinsworth continued, “(as) Buckner played over 100 snaps in two different games. Assuming he won’t have to play as many snaps in the NFL, Buckner may become one of those players that has to be double-teamed on almost every play, creating one-on-one opportunities for the 49ers’ edge rushers. At his best, Buckner could disrupt like Seattle’s Michael Bennett, but at a minimum, Buckner’s quickness should compress the pocket and take away that step-up space that most QBs need. His 6-7 height should also deliver some key blocked passes and maybe a few blocked kicks during his career. He can get beat up on double teams occasionally, but there is too much to like for Buckner to slip out of the top 10.”
Bosa may well get drafted first, but unlike with the Ohio State star there’s no chance of Buckner losing DL eligibility in IDP leagues by being drafted to play outside linebacker in a three-man front. However, a whole lot of things would have to break the right way, from quick adjustment to the NFL to landing spot, for Buckner to make a big fantasy dent as a rookie. After all, Armstead managed only two sacks in nearly 400 snaps a year ago, and Campbell was shut out in that regard as a rookie back in 2008.
However, if those similarities to Campbell bear out and Buckner becomes an excellent two-way player capable of solid tackle production and 7-8 sacks per season, then the youngster could (just as Campbell has) work his way into DL2+ territory fairly soon. As such, depending on how things play out on April 28th, Buckner will be in the mix to be the first rookie defensive lineman drafted in fantasy leagues in 2016.