By Bryan Dietzler
The Bears filled a need at the inside linebacker position by bringing in former Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevethan so the need at inside linebacker has been tempered a little bit by this addition. The next biggest area of need that the Bears have on the team is along their defensive line. They could use a strong pass rusher to get to the quarterback and complement what they have already on the defensive line. It’s not known if they are going to bring back Jarvis Jenkins so they may have to do some re-tooling on their defensive line to get better for next season.
There has been one name that has been floated around as a possibility for the Bears to pick up in the 2016 NFL Draft and help them out on defense. That person is Oregon defensive lineman Deforest Buckner. Buckner is one of the top defensive linemen in the country and could be one of the most sought after picks in the early rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft. But could he be a player the Bears are interested in? How could they use him? What positive and negative qualities does he have about him?
The following is a scouting report on Buckner. There is a look into the positive aspects of his play as well as the negative aspects. There is some insight into whether or not he would be a good fit with the Bears and whether they would pick him at number 11 in the 2016 NFL Draft.
While at Oregon, Buckner won several honors that are worth mentioning in this evaluation. He was given the award for 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, he was a Ted Hendricks Award finalist as well as being honored for several all American squads. He was noted as a 2014 Second Team All-Pac 12 pick. When Buckner was a freshman, he was given what is called the Casanova Award for being the top first year player at Oregon. He also received the Schaffeld Award which is given to Oregon’s top linemen.
Going into his senior season Buckner was on a number of watch lists including the Bronco Nagurski Trophy for the best defensive player in college football as well as the Bednarick Award for the National Defensive Player of the Year.
When it comes to his talent Buckner has a lot of talent to go around. One thing that scouts says stands out about him is his build and physique. He stands six feet seven inches tall and weighs just about three hundred pounds. This size makes it so that a typical offensive lineman has trouble holding him back and this allows Buckner to make even just a little impact on the play. His size makes it difficult for just one lineman to handle him and in college he was drawing double and sometimes triple teams often. Another facet that Buckner possesses is his strength and power. He has a lot of natural strength and power in his hands and that can be easily seen. Overall he is very strong and uses that strength to gain leverage on blockers. He can push blockers back into the running lanes and disrupt the rushing attack of opposing offenses.
In regards to effort, Buckner is definitely not lacking in that. He is not content at any time and plays with solid effort. He also has exceptional hands and feet. He will use his hands and feet to continuously improve his positioning and he keeps his hands active at all times. In that, he also can use his hands and feet at the same time and gets into opposing linemen’s chest squarely with his hands. He does have heavy hands to move the opponent off the ball well enough and he also has quick hands which allows him to create pressure against guards.
With his pass rushing ability Buckner may have some work to do but he has a pretty good foundation. He became a solid pass rusher in 2015 after his first few seasons weren’t as spectacular. He improved his pad level as a pass rusher and was able to convert his rushing technique into sacks and quarterback knockdowns. When it comes to rush moves, Buckner has a very powerful and well developed bull rush that allows him get to quarterbacks quickly and get them down. Buckner also possesses the ability to collapse the pocket inside on his pass rush.
When it comes to power and athletic ability Buckner has plenty of that and he gets a lot of production thanks to that. He has good quickness, strength and overall athleticism. In regards to his tackling ability, Bucker was very productive over his last two seasons with the Ducks gaining 163 in that span. His long arms and solid speed of play allow him to get to the tackle and he makes the tackles that come at him. Buckner also takes good angles to the tackle and makes tackles down the field.
In regards to his body type and physical traits Buckner has several things that stand out. He has a flexible upper body. He can flip his shoulders and then (in his lower body) his hips around blockers allowing him to get on the other side of the line quickly. His athleticism and size allow him to play most any position along the defensive line. He has good length and has a tall, long frame with potential to add bulk to his body. He has a long wingspan and is able to get into passing lanes allowing him to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage (he is very well adept at this). His lower body is fluid and he is able to effectively use his upper body and momentum to generate a good push off the snap. He controls his body well and has an explosive first step and good starting power to disrupt plays at the line. His long arms allow him to get on to and control opposing blockers.
Buckner has some upside with his speed and quickness. He is very quick off the snap and that is surprising for a man of his size. With that his first step is fast and he can get in and close on the ball carrier in a hurry. Speaking of closing in on the ball carrier, Buckner has displayed solid pursuit speed in chasing down ball carriers and has the quickness to get to and pressure the quarterback. He is well adept at getting into the backfield to create a disruption in the running game or the passing game and thanks to his combination of quickness and strength he is able to beat most right tackles and right guards. Finally, Buckner is well adept at making plays quicker than other defensive linemen are.
In terms of defending against the run Buckner is pretty good at doing that. He is a quality run defender and is difficult to cut off in the running game. He can stack and shed blocks as he moves with the play down the line. He can get low and move blockers in the running game, locates the ball very well and can make the play. He can also make plays on the backside of running plays. He is very versatile and can line up in a variety of places fitting in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme. He could play defensive tackle in a four man front but may be better suited at a defensive end position in a 3-4 defense. This versatility and ability to play a variety of different positions will really help him in the draft.
Buckner does well at getting off blocks using his length to get off those blocks and create space at the point of attack. He locks out, sets the edge and does prevent angle blocks. He stacks and sheds quickly using the pop in his hands to get off of contact. For his size, he plays low and gets a good bend which doesn’t make it easy for blockers to get to his chest. When it comes to the different assignments by blockers Buckner is rarely met by a single block and instead is double teamed or chip blocked by offensive players. He can take on those double teams well and work through them.
Finally, there are a few other things that Buckner does well that should be pointed out. He is very good at controlling his gap and uses his leverage well. He has a big tackle radius that allows him to make plays up and down the entire line of scrimmage. He is very physical at the point of attach and with his quickness he is able to beat the backside cutoffs you sometimes see when going up against zone schemes. He can also penetrate and blow up plays when given favorable shade. Buckner has a quiet and reserved personality off the field but possesses the mentality of a fighter on the field.
There is some downside to Buckner that needs to be pointed out. For one thing, he has a tendency to play too tall at times. There are times when his pad level is so high it hinders his ability to stop and change direction with good body control. If he bends more and gets lower that will lessen the impact of his playing too tall. When he plays too high he allows opponents to get under his pads and move him around in all aspects of the game. He needs to work on playing lower to get better leverage and also playing high causes him to get pushed back or work to a standstill with opposing linemen. He will also get moved off the spot playing too high.
When it comes to his base Buckner needs to play with a wider base in the NFL. He also has some trouble when taking on blockers. He has a habit of turning his shoulders and getting knocked out of position as opposed to squaring up his pads. At times he would get sealed off towards the inside of the line and this would leave an open gap in the spot where he was lined up. If he can recognize that what the opposing player is attempting to do to him he can try to shed the block or counter the linemen. Another thing that Buckner sometimes fails to do is anchor well against double teams. Double teams can move him outside of the point of attack sometimes.
While Buckner has some speed, he doesn’t have blazing speed and doesn’t get around the corner that fast. He can be easily run to the outside on the edge due to his lack of top end speed. When it comes to his pass rushing moves Buckner only really has one move and needs to work on getting other moves. He needs to spend time developing those moves and develop some counter moves as well. He is more of a reactor as a pass rusher and needs to not sacrifice the edge so much when trying to get to the quarterback. With good NFL coaching he should be able to overcome some of his problems rushing the passer.
There isn’t much Buckner lacks when defending against the run although he does have a couple of things that should be pointed out. He can lose containment getting brought inside which will leave a hole for the ball carrier to run though. Teams have also had success running the ball right at him in the past so he will need to shore up his run stopping capability. There are times when he will lose sight of the ball and has difficulty finding it after losing sight of it. When tackling the ball carrier, Buckner will sometimes try to bring them down with one arm on the ball carrier and one arm on the blocker and needs to secure the tackle with both arms. Another aspect of his tackling that he needs to improve upon is gaining balance in space and not time his hits. He doesn’t anticipate the snap all that well and doesn’t have an aggressive instinct at times on plays. Finally, he does struggle to bring himself back and reset himself after his initial move stalls out.
Buckner could work well in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 but for the Bears he would need to work in a 3-4 defense. Chicago could use his ability to be a difference maker at the point of attack and they could get some five technique play out of him. The Bears have shown some interest in Bucker as we head up towards the draft so perhaps they are thinking of taking him with the 11th pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Bucker is going to be a solid NFL player with good coaching. If he develops additional pass rushing moves and can shore up the few faults he has he could be a great player. If the Bears decide to take a chance on Buckner he could end up being a fine player for them for several seasons to come. Buckner should be a top-15 pick in this year’s draft.