Often the term “blue chip” is reserved for the the athletes who possess elite physical traits that stick out when they walk in the room. For DeForest Buckner, to call his physique conspicuous would be an understatement. To reflect on his formidable measurables, Buckner is built with colossal proportions. While his 6’7” frame may be the first thing that pops out, his nearly 12” hands dwarf just anything he could get his hands on.
For most NFL teams, Buckner should be on blue chip short list. To match his incredible build, he was also one of the more productive interior defensive lineman in college during 2015. Buckner was responsible for 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss while playing for the University of Oregon. Throughout his career in Eugene, Buckner was responsible for a total of 54 plays made behind the line of scrimmage.
With the top two picks already reserved, Buckner will be one of the players considered by some as the “true” first overall selection. Considering the stakes, the question remains: is Buckner the elite of the elite, or is he just another name in the crowd?
DeForest Buckner | DL | Oregon
Tale of the tape:
- Height: 6’7”
- Weight: 291 lbs.
- Arm: 34 ⅜”
- Hands: 11 ¾”
- 40 yard dash: 5.05 sec.
- 3 cone: 7.51 sec.
- 20 yard shuttle: 4.47 sec.
- 60 yard shuttle: N/A
- Vert: 32”
- Broad: 116”
- Bench: N/A
Something that typically comes with size is length, and Buckner has it in just about every aspect. Long fingers and long arms go a long way in the NFL, and Buckner used those gifts to great effect throughout his collegiate career. Like other lengthy NFL defensive lineman before him, Buckner will naturally be a nuisance in passing lanes where he was credited for defending five passes in 2015 and 10 passes during four seasons. The other aspect where Buckner’s length stands out is in his ability to control the opposition. Control is a big part of success in NFL trenches, where the name of the game is movement. Buckner showed the ability to move offensive lineman by shooting out his over 34” arms and gaining first contact.
Using a potent combo of length and strength, Buckner made a habit of using those impossibly long tendrils to steer offensive lineman according to his will. Especially in run situations, Buckner made the act of shedding blockers look effortless.
While his ability to stifle an offense’s run game is well documented, it is his ability as an interior pass rusher which sets him apart. Against shorter armed and slower footed guards (or college tackles who project as NFL guards), Buckner showed the ability to outclass his opposition on a play by play basis. Unlike traditional edge rushers (which Buckner is not), he’s most adept as utilizing an inside rip or swim move to displace blockers. For a 6’7” nearly 300 pound athlete, his quickness projects as an invaluable trait.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of being a true “blue chip” player is the decision the player must make to never take plays off. While Buckner may not win every matchup, he does give his all on every snap. As an interior player, having a high motor is not only encouraged, it is necessary at the NFL level - where players are indoctrinated to give maximum effort (money tends to be a pretty good motivator).
For all the advantages Buckner’s size affords him, it is his height which also tends to be his undoing. In most cases, Buckner beats blockers to the point of attack with his long arms and sternum shattering punch, but that isn’t always the case. In instances when he gets beat of the snap or fails to establish first contact against an equally lengthy athlete, Buckner is susceptible to losing leverage. Against Michigan State’s Jack Conklin - who is every bit Buckner’s equal when it comes to length and strength - the offensive tackle was able to challenge Buckner’s dominance at the point of attack.
Conklin was able to get Buckner on the ground in five separate occasions, and although Conklin did have help in the form of double teams and chip blocks, Buckner has to do a better job of keeping his feet in the NFL.
Even against lesser - albeit still NFL caliber - offensive lineman, Buckner’s weakness shows again when he’s beaten off the ball. Against Oregon State’s Isaac Seumalo, who projects as a guard or center in the NFL, Buckner was bowled over in what resulted in a long running play on his side. While Buckner dominated Seumalo for the majority of the game, this instance revealed a chink in Hercules’ armor.
Apart from losing leverage in very specific situations, there isn’t very much left in Buckner’s game to criticise. Players like Calais Campbell, who tends to be Buckner's most common comparison, have found ways to virtually eliminate the deficiencies of being a taller interior defensive lineman.
Even with one legitimate observable flaw, Buckner should still be considered among the realm of elite players in this year’s draft. He’s a better player than his former teammate and last year’s 17th overall pick, Arik Armstead, and should be a very productive rookie. Buckner’s physical ability also makes him a versatile piece for teams to utilize all along the defensive line in virtually every scheme and sub-package. While some strictly view him as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense, Buckner would be right at home playing 3-technique in a one-gap 4-3 defense, as well.
The San Diego Chargers should, and probably are, considering Buckner at 3rd overall should they keep the pick. Along with Jalen Ramsey and Laremy Tunsil, Buckner is keeping good company in the draft. Even if the Chargers decide to go in a different direction, Buckner’s positional and scheme versatility keep him in play throughout the top 10.