DeForest Buckner is a superstar. He is a top 3 player at his position and he is a match made in heaven for Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme. He is just what this defense desperately missed last season and, even though the price to get him might seem a tad expensive (#13th overall pick, big extension), Ballard saw the chance to vastly improve the team and he took it.
Buckner was selected by the 49ers with the 7th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he has been improving his game each and every season, asserting himself as an All-Pro caliber player in the process. He was also a team captain for the Niners defense, which goes to show his leadership and locker room presence, and how well he will fit into the Colts strong locker room.
You might be asking yourself, “Well if he is so good, then why did the 49ers trade him away?”. The answer to that is that San Francisco has an abundance of talent at the defensive line position, featuring 3 former first round picks and a marquee free-agent signing, and after signing Arik Armstead to a massive extension, Buckner became the odd man out. If you are still skeptical about DeForest, try searching him up on Twitter and look for yourself what 49ers’ fans had to say about his departure.
If you want to get to know Buckner’s game more in detail, I would highly recommend checking out Zach’s film room session on him, where he breaks down his game and why he is one of the most dominant 3-techniques in the game.
What I will talk about, is how just from DeForest Buckner’s presence, the rest of the defense will improve and hopefully transform the unit completely.
DeFo Vs. Colts IDL
|Colts IDL combined||6.5||9||1||0||16||1719|
The first aspect that really jumps out while looking at the numbers, is just how disruptive Buckner is. DeFo alone posted better numbers that entire Colts interior defensive linemen, in less than half the snaps, which is just absurd. And before you say that Buckner benefited from playing in a stacked Niners front-7, just look at his stats from the 2018 season, where neither rookie sensation Nick Bosa or Dee Ford were on the team: 12 sacks, 17 TFLs, and 20 QB hits. Simply put, the guy is a different beast from what we are used to having in the Colts trenches.
Most Double-Teams Faced as a Pass Rusher since 2016— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) March 18, 2020
Kenny Clark - 221
Maliek Collins - 196
Aaron Donald - 195
DeForest Buckner - 194
First of all, Buckner is excellent at drawing double teams from the opposing line, which in exchange means that the rest of the defensive line can benefit from having one-on-one matchups consistently. Colts edge rushers Justin Houston and Kemoko Turay/Ben Banogu will most likely have much more success rushing the passer next season, as Buckner eats up blockers on the inside, lookout for Kemoko Turay having a breakout season if he can stay healthy.
The linebacker group will also reap the benefits of playing with a monster like Buckner on the inside. The Colts linebackers all fit the same mold, rangy, athletic with long arms who excel in space. What Buckner will do for the linebackers is provide them with such space, as opposing offensive lines will be faced with the tough choice of either not doubling Buckner or leaving a linebacker unmarked. This will help not only versus the run, but also when Eberflus dials up his famous linebacker delayed blitz. Darius Leonard coming in like a missile with a free lane against the quarterback will be a joy to watch next season.
Finally, the secondary will enjoy much more success as the quarterback will have much less time to sit comfortable in the pocket with an elite pass-rusher like Buckner breathing down their neck. This will result in much more inaccurate throws and less long shots, something the Colts struggled mightily to cover last season. One player I particularly think benefits from the Buckner acquisition is Malik Hooker, who will have a chance to make plays on the increase of errant throws, as Buckner gets pressure on the quarterbacks’ face.
Overall, Ballard surprised everyone and made a move that will most likely take this talented defensive unit to the next level. After an underachieving 2019 season, it looks like the defense will be the main reason why this teams wins or loses games, which is a refreshing thing to watch after so many years of offensive dominance.