According to ESPN’s Mike Clay (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts acquiring former San Francisco 49ers All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is ranked as the NFL’s biggest offseason upgrade at any respective league position:
1. Indianapolis Colts, DT
DeForest Buckner replaces Margus Hunt
Hunt’s 2019 stat line: 17 tackles, 0 sacks
Buckner’s 2020 projection: 62 tackles, 7 sacks
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said early in the offseason that the Colts’ defensive scheme runs through the 3-technique tackle. He put his money where his mouth is not long after, trading for Buckner. The 26-year-old was arguably the 49ers’ best player during a 2019 season that saw the team advance to the Super Bowl. Buckner’s 7.5 sacks tied for sixth, his 12 tackles for loss fifth and his 61 total tackles ninth among interior defensive linemen. Buckner was a key acquisition for an ascending defense that includes the likes of Justin Houston, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore and Malik Hooker. This unit is now good enough to help get the Colts back into the playoffs.
Of course, the Colts are familiar with some franchise changing, single offseason positional improvements in recent memory: Curtis Painter to Andrew Luck at starting quarterback (2011-12) and Jeremy Vujnovich to Quenton Nelson at starting left guard (2017-2018) immediately come to mind among others—although Buckner was acquired through trade (for this year’s 13th overall pick to be exact).
As the former 7th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the 26 year old Buckner has already become an All-Pro, and one of the best young defensive tackles in all of football—and for the NFC Champion 49ers’ elite defense last season.
The 4th-year defensive tackle had 62 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and 55 total QB pressures this past season.
He’s just one year removed from a 12.0 sack season with the 49ers in 2018.
At 6’7”, 295 pounds, Buckner has incredibly long arms, is very athletic, and has great quickness for the defensive tackle position. As a natural three-technique, he should anchor the interior of the Colts defensive line and provide a much needed pass rush push inside.
Meanwhile, despite a breakout season in 2018, the 32 year old Margus Hunt had an underwhelming season last year for the Colts and was released earlier this offseason.
On a Colts defense that already features fellow All-Pro Darius Leonard, rising star slot corner Kenny Moore, veteran stalwart Justin Houston, and emerging pass rusher Kemoko Turay among others, Indianapolis could have a much improved unit with Buckner now in the fold—who should make their entire defense better with the overall attention he commands, as well as his high level of production and playmaking ability.
For what it’s worth, the Colts replacing Jacoby Brissett with Philip Rivers at starting quarterback ranked as the 7th biggest offseason position upgrade.