NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks listed his Top 5 ‘sleeper’ candidates for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award for the 2021 season. Colts’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner comes in at No. 1.
Brooks writes, in part, “Buckner’s ability to crush the pocket as a pass rusher/run defender sets the table for Leonard and others to feast off errant throws (leading to interceptions) and run-throughs (leading to sacks and tackles for loss) created by his penetration.”
Buckner wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks for the entire 2020 season, earning the former first-round pick his first-ever, first team All-Pro selection.
Buckner also set the franchise record for sacks (9.5) by a interior defensive lineman, had 58 combined tackles, 10 TFLs, 26 quarterback hits, a fumble recovery and a safety.
The All-Pro spoke with local media members just a few weeks ago, and he made sure to give props to his teammates that have continued to stand out and work hard at getting better.
“Just making little steps to get better,” Buckner said. “We all have things we can work on, but to see the guys actually continue to focus on those little things that coaches ask of them, to get better each and every day, you can see the growth.”
Speaking of growth and progression, that’s exactly what’ll be expected of this Colts’ defense this season. Buckner knows this, and he believes the team possesses the necessary pieces to be something special.
“You guys saw last year, throughout the year, we played some great ballgames,” Buckner said. “For me, looking back at [the] 2020 season, it’s consistency. If we’re consistent from start to finish, I believe we could finish [as] the No. 1 defense in the league.”
Indianapolis has seen the flashes from a pass rushing standpoint throughout the preseason. There’s more consistency with creating pressure, which is going to bode well for Buckner and Grover Stewart, as they could likely see more 1-on-1 looks this season.
Buckner has established himself as a leader for the Colts’ defense and within the locker room. He’ll be looking to pick up right where he left off, and if he and the rest of the defensive line can create a more consistent rush this season, it could help elevate this defense into one of the better, all-around units in the NFL.