The Buffalo Bills’ defense has been inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Oregon’s defensive lineman, DeForest Buckner.
From now until the 2016 NFL draft, I’ll be publishing my thoughts on various draft prospects that I’ve watched and offering opinions on their traits—both positive and negative—supplemented with video clips explaining my analysis, before detailing how the player would likely fit in within the Bills’ schemes.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Oregon has had two defensive linemen taken in the first round since 2013 in Dion Jordan and Arik Armstead, but DeForest Buckner is a better prospect than his former teammates were. Standing 6’7” and weighing 290 pounds, the All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year looks like the type of lineman you’d create in a Madden game… and he plays like it too.
He’s played 51 games in four years for the Ducks, starting for the last two seasons and has recorded 225 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, two forced fumbles and broke up 10 passes. In the 2015 season, ProFootballFocus graded him as the No. 1 pass rusher among interior defensive linemen after notching a position-leading 40 quarterback pressures, but his real strength as a player is playing the run, where his 30 stops are the most at his position.
DeForest Buckner is just a massive human being with the prototypical frame for the 3-4 defensive end position. He’s got ridiculously long arms and he understands how to use his length to his advantage by getting into the pads of opposing offensive linemen to control them and maintain leverage.
His ability to extend his arms and disengage from blocks is displayed in the following clip against Michigan State’s left tackle Jack Conklin, a projected first-or-second round draft pick. He gets off the ball quickly, drives Conklin off his spot before ripping off and wrapping up the running back for a stop.
Buckner has incredible strength and play speed for a man of his size and will consistently play to the whistle. He rarely takes a play off and he’ll look to chase plays downfield even when he doesn’t have a real chance of being in on the tackle. In the play below, Michigan State runs an end-around. Buckner gets off his block and shows off great speed, taking a good angle to close the distance between himself and the ball carrier. The Spartans gain 20 yards before being knocked out of bounds by Oregon’s defensive backs, but Buckner’s hustle is something you always want to see.
Right now, DeForest Buckner’s biggest strength comes as a run defender. In Oregon’s 3-4 defense he plays as the right defensive end, either as a five-technique over the tackle where he’s a two-gap player, or as a three-technique between the guard and tackle—typically in passing situations—where he’s a one-gap defender.
Two-gap players are responsible for controlling the line of scrimmage and defending the gap to either side of the lineman they’re assigned to, in order to free up space for linebackers to make plays.
Players in this role routinely face double-teams and do more of the dirty work without making splash plays that get recognized. That’s not the case for Buckner, who will not only hold his ground at the point of attack as a run defender, but he will stack and shed blocks, split double teams and still make a play on a ball-carrier. In the next play against Ohio State, one of the best rushing offenses in the nation, Bucker is playing the five-technique over the Buckeyes’ left tackle. Running an inside zone, Buckner easily defeats the left guard with a rip and brings down Ezekiel Elliott at the line of scrimmage for a stop.
Here, Buckner bursts through the line of scrimmage almost untouched, beating projected first-round left tackle Taylor Decker inside and chases down Ezekiel Elliott from the backside for a tackle for loss.
Buckner wins in the run game with power, hand use and quickness, but due to his massive frame he needs to be aware of his pad level. At times, he’ll get too high out of his stance which allows linemen to get under him and knock him off his spot.
Other times, he’ll get too aggressive and lean forward, causing him to lose balance and be turned around.
DeForest Bucker notched 17 sacks in his career and led defensive lineman in pressures during his senior year, but he’ll need to refine his game and develop some additional pass rush moves to see that type of production at the NFL level. Here against Oregon State, Buckner bulldozes his way through three blockers and makes a sack. This showing of raw power and agility is impressive, but it’s not something he’ll be able to do in the pros.
His length and lower body strength allow him to easily overwhelm offensive linemen with a bull-rush, as he did against Florida State and Michigan State in the following plays.
He started to develop an inside swim move, something that if he masters, could make him a terror as a pass rusher due to his long arms.
Right now, Buckner has shown that he can really only generate pressure by winning with power or using his hands to keep blockers at a distance and beat them inside.
DeForest Bucker is quick, strong and explosive but he’ll eventually need to learn how to win on the edge if he wants to reach his full potential.
Fit With The Bills
DeForest Buckner is an ideal fit for Rex Ryan’s hybrid scheme that features multiple fronts with both one and two-gap principles. He has the ability to play both the five and three technique within his system and he’s got the necessary length and power to occupy blockers, with the quickness and athleticism to disrupt the pocket in passing situations.
While he’s still raw as a pass rusher, he’s a fantastic run defender so he’ll be able to make an immediate impact while he develops his overall game. Buckner’s rare size and combination of strength, athletic ability and the talent he’s already shown makes him an intriguing prospect with a high-ceiling for growth.
Player Comparison: Calais Campell (coming out of Miami)