San Francisco

49ers' Buckner is Riding Through Roller-Coaster Rookie Year

Niners' No. 1 pick is coming off a rough outing vs. Falcons, after enjoying his best game against the Jets two weeks ago

It’s been an interesting season for 49ers rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner.

The team’s No. 1 draft pick has been getting a crash course in professional football with 13 starts. In some games, he’s played every defensive snap.

The 6-foot-7, 291-pounder has had five sacks, been in on 69 tackles and has two fumble recoveries.

In some games, Buckner has looked like a building block for a franchise desperately in need of many. In San Francisco’s 23-17 loss to the Jets on Dec. 11, Buckner looked like a star on the rise, with two sacks and 11 tackles. Against the Bills in October, he had two sacks and was in on nine stops.

After his big day against the Jets, 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil was complimentary about the defensive end in the team’s 3-4 alignment – who just happens to lead the team in defensive snaps this season.

“He’s making some big-time plays for us right now, and that’s what you want when you draft a guy (number) seven overall,” O’Neil told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “He’s done a really nice job.”

Yet seven days later, Buckner vanished in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He was in on four tackles and didn’t really come close to a sack on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

In fact, the analytics website Pro Football Focus included Buckner on its list of 10 worst performances in the NFL this past weekend.

Wrote Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus: “San Francisco’s top pick in this year’s draft, Buckner had been playing pretty well over the past few weeks, but that came to a shuddering halt against the Falcons and a legitimate offensive line. Buckner was blanked as a pass rusher, failing to generate any pressure at all on 25 pass rushes, but was also handled at the point of attack, where double teams have been a major struggle for him all season long.”

Buckner has acknowledged that this has been a season of learning. He’s playing at a new level, in a new system, with new coaches and teammates, while being part of a defense where injuries have hurt the defensive unit overall.

“I’m just getting used to the workload that the coaches gave to me,” he said recently “I’m getting used to the amount of snaps that I’m getting and making the most of them.”

Buckner will get his next chance to bounce back this Saturday, when the 1-13 49ers travel to Los Angeles to take on the 4-10 Rams. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.

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