Niners' Buckner Has Become a Defensive Force

In his third season, former No. 1 pick has a career-best 11 sacks while rushing from the interior of the defensive line

While the 49ers have been disappointing in 2018, DeForest Buckner hasn’t.

While many of the 49ers’ draft picks in recent years have failed to produce, Buckner’s production continues to improve.

The 24-year-old interior defensive lineman, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2016 out of Oregon, could be headed for his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Buckner, coming off a two-sack, 11-tackle effort in a 26-23 overtime victory over Seattle this past weekend that Pro Football Focus labeled “superb,” now has career highs in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (16) and, with two games remaining, could surpass his season-best totals in tackles and quarterback hits.

Buckner is the first 49er to have 10 or more sacks in a season since Aldon Smith had 19½ in 2012.

When this season is over and the Niners start work toward 2019, Buckner is the foundation piece of the defensive line who provides that rare ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks from the inside.

Getting to double digits in sacks was a preseason goal for Buckner, but he said he needed help.

“I knew I was capable of it, and to see my hard work get paid off, it’s definitely gratifying,” Buckner said after the Seahawks win. “I knew I could do it and I worked my tail off in the offseason to get there. I’d like to thank my teammates. It’s not one guy, it’s the whole unit up front rushing as a team. Eventually, if you rush as a team, someone will get rewarded.”

Though the 49ers don’t have the overall pass rush they’d hoped to have this season, there are positive signs. Arik Armstead has just three sacks but has 12 quarterback hits; Solomon Thomas has only one sack, but had a strong game vs. Seattle with consistent push. Both have shown improvement in 2018.

Wrote Pro Football Focus of Thomas: “(He) had arguably the best game of his career. … Even though he didn’t stuff the stat sheet, his crucial drawn hold in overtime was reminiscent of how he rushed the passer from the interior back at Stanford.”

Buckner and his line mates will try to keep it going on Sunday when the 4-10 49ers take on the 10-4 Bears at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m.

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