The San Francisco 49ers elected to boost their defensive front with the selection of edge rusher DeForest Buckner with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft.
The move marks the second straight season that general manager Trent Baalke has taken a big-bodied defensive lineman from Oregon with his first round pick.
The 49ers selected Arik Armstead with the 17th overall pick in last year’s draft.
The Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Year will join former coaches Chip Kelly and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro in helping to return a former 49ers defense to prominence after an exodus of key players left San Francisco with the fourth worst defense in the NFL in 2015.
For Buckner, the transition from college to the pro’s may be softened by both a familiarity in scheme and faces. On a conference call with reporters, an elated Buckner spoke about what it meant to be reunited with his former Oregon personnel in Santa Clara.
“I’m probably the happiest guy in the draft right now, being reunited with Arik. … I was praying after [Joey] Bosa going number three to San Diego, because everyone was talking about it. But I was praying to be reunited with Arik and coach Kelly and coach Azzinaro.”
Although pundits had linked Buckner to the 49ers prior to the draft, he was never sure of his status with the organization. The Oregon product had visited with three teams higher than the 49ers in the draft, including Jacksonville, Dallas and San Diego.
The move may have seemed even more surprising considering the last time the team spoke with Buckner was at the combine. But Buckner believed that he needed no reintroduction to the coach who recruited him to Oregon.
“I feel like they already knew who I was as a person, so there wasn’t much to get to know.”
Buckner has been considered a more polished prospect than Armstead, who left during his junior year in college. He has the ability to play in multiple positions and sides along the 49ers defensive line, and could be an immediate contributor with people like Ian Williams dealing with injuries.
The selection of Buckner continues the defensive-heavy drafting style of Baalke over the last four years.
Buckner is now the fourth consecutive defensive player to be taken by the 49ers in the first round, and San Francisco has spent six picks within the first two rounds on defense over this span.
The addition of the powerful Buckner hopes to add some pressure upfront to opposing offenses. The 6-foot-7, 300 pound Buckner tallied 18.0 sacks, 36 tackles for loss and 232 tackles total in 54 games at Oregon.
While both Buckner and Armstead have been compared to each other, the newly-drafted lineman broke down the differences between himself and his friend and new teammate in Armstead.
“I mean we’re both similar in size, and we both played in the same scheme and everything. I’m really aggressive, he’s really aggressive too, but I’m really aggressive and I like to use my hands a lot in the pass rush game. I also really like to use a lot of power in my game too, but also at the same time when guys expect power I’m using my athleticism, because I’m pretty athletic for my size.”
Armstead flashed signs of potential last year during a somewhat limited roll during his rookie season. He finished the season with 19 tackles and two sacks. The 6-foot-7 Armstead needs to refine his technique a bit more in his sophomore season, but has the physical tools and strength to be an imposing force.
In his senior year at Oregon, he finished second in total tackles on the team (83), while winning the Duck’s Most Outstanding Player on defense and Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Year honors. He’s also shown his durability in college, finishing the season with the second-most defensive snaps played on the year.
Buckner’s unique blend of athleticism and power may help the 49ers net more than the measly 28 total sacks they achieved in 2015, good for 29th in the NFL.
The selection of Buckner takes care of a need on defense, but leaves the 49ers vulnerable on the other side of the trenches.
San Francisco’s already porous offensive line got even worse with the departure of G Alex Boone to the Vikings. The 49ers should look to spend the 37th overall pick on a member of the offensive line to help shore up two crucial needs in restoring the franchise.
Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.
Buckner and Garnett.