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ESPN’s Annual League Survey Ranks Colts DT DeForest Buckner as the 3rd Best Player at his Position

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Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (subscription), Indianapolis Colts’ reigning NFL First-Team All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is the league’s 3rd best player at his position based on an annual survey of fifty league executives, coaches, scouts, and players:

3. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: 6

Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 4

Buckner set the tone of disruption in his first year with the Colts, posting 58 tackles, 9.5 sacks, three pass deflections and two forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus gave Buckner a stellar 89.7 grade on the season.

“He’s a damn problem,” an NFC exec said. “Once he gets those long arms on you, he can drive you back. Doesn’t stop coming each play. Incredible motor.”

The Colts defense improved from 16th to 8th in total defense ranking year-over-year, and the trade with the 49ers for Buckner was a catalyst. Indianapolis allowed 3.7 yards per rush when Buckner was on the field and 4.9 yards per rush when he was on the sideline.

Buckner is also highly effective as an edge defender, winning on 33.3% of his edge rushes to lead all NFL defensive players. He tied for the team lead in total pressures.

Behind only the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald (undisputedly the best) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones, Buckner climbed a spot from last year’s ranking when he was ranked #4 overall.

In his debut campaign with the Colts, the 27 year old defensive tackle recorded 58 tackles (37 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks (a team-high), 57 total QB pressures (a team-high), 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a safety, and 3 passes defensed during 15 games (14 starts) in 2020.

Per PFF (subscription), Buckner was graded as their 5th best defensive tackle with a +89.6 grade overall in 2020—including a sparkling +90.1 pass rushing grade.

The Colts’ much improved and ascending defense was noticeably worse without Buckner in the lineup—as he was the catalyst to their defensive line’s play and pass rush collectively.

At a listed 6’7”, 295 pounds (with 34 3/8” arms), Buckner features a unique blend of size, athleticism, strength, quickness—and those long tentacles, that simply wreak havoc consistently in opposing backfields/pockets. He’s a freak and physical specimen out there, who was incredibly productive for the Colts last year.

While Buckner was surprisingly snubbed from a Pro Bowl nod this past season—and even PFF’s Top 50 players published just a few weeks ago, it’s great to see him receive some well-earned recognition here.

That being said, it may be a matter of splitting hairs—or call me biased, but I would take Buckner over Jones given the former’s consistent effort and motor. His tremendous play on the field and work ethic off of it have already worn off on his younger Colts teammates.