San Francisco

Niners' Buckner is Finishing Strong in Rookie Year

San Francisco's top pick is coming off another strong game against Rams and is showing terrific potential as a pass rusher

Sometimes it takes awhile for a No. 1 pick to establish himself. In 2016, that hasn’t been the case with the 49ers’ DeForest Buckner.

The rookie defensive end from Oregon has had his rough spots in his first year as a pro. At times, the 6-foot-7, 291-pounder has been pushed around in the running game, especially against double teams. The Niners hope that as he gets more experience and learns from his mistakes and weaknesses this year  he can evolve into a better all-around player.

But as a pass rusher, Buckner has shown the 49ers that he has the potential to be dominating.

Against the Los Angeles Rams this past Saturday, Buckner rushed the passer 28 times and had a sack, two hits, two hurries and batted down a pass.

Wrote John Breitenbach of the analytic website Pro Football Focus: “On a couple of plays in the third quarter, Buckner blew by left guard Jamon Brown, barely offering the Rams quarterback and opportunity to survey the field.”

Breitenbach noted that lack of rest – Buckner rarely comes out of the game – could be one of the reasons he hasn’t played as well against the run this season.  But, he wrote, Buckner is “an exceptional building block for the future.”

In 14 games, Buckner has six sacks, has been in on 71 tackles and has two fumble recoveries.

Next season he’ll be paired with Arik Armstead (now injured) at the defensive end spots in San Francisco’s 3-4 alignment, and gives the franchise a nice combo of top picks as a foundation for 2017 and beyond.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil has seen Buckner develop over the course of this season and is excited about his future.

“I think we have seen him transform into a guy that can now make plays in the run-pass game and he’s been unbelievable,” said O’Neil.

Buckner will get his final opportunity for 2016 this Sunday, when the 2-13 49ers play host to the 9-5-1 Seahawks. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.

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