Why PFF is obsessed with DeForest Buckner

Sam Monson breaks down exactly why Oregon's DE should be in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick.

| 5 months ago
(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Why PFF is obsessed with DeForest Buckner


With the 2016 draft season underway, Sam Monson will open up his Analysis Notebook once again to share an in-depth evaluation of one top prospect each week. This week, we’ll explore the strengths, weaknesses and bottom-line scouting report for Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner. 

There may not be a player in the 2016 draft that PFF has loved more than DeForest Buckner (and if there is, it’s Joey Bosa). Buckner has been one of the most disruptive forces in the nation as a defensive lineman for the Oregon Ducks and has improved in each campaign.

He ended the season as the highest-graded interior defender in the nation — some distance clear of Sheldon Day in second — and his +73.0 is the highest figure we have seen across two years, as he beat Henry Anderson and Leonard Williams from last season out of sight.

We hear about players so good they broke the scale, and if you take a look at Buckner’s game-by-game grades this past season we see that he literally broke the PFF scale when he faced Georgia State.

2016-02-23_13-43-41

Scouts may find things to nitpick over when it comes to his game, but the bottom line is there has been no more productive player in college football in 2015, and he should be one of the very first players selected in the draft.

What he does well

In short, everything. Buckner posted 67 total defensive pressures over the season which was nine more than any other interior player, and 17 more than Leonard Williams managed a year ago. Even when you add edge rushers to the mix that figure is still only bettered by three players this season, one of whom is Bosa.

The word that leaped out at me when I was watching Oregon games a year ago and hasn’t changed is “active.” He is a consistent thorn in an offense’s side even if he isn’t necessarily the most explosive pass-rusher you will come across.

That’s not to say Buckner doesn’t have that quick-impact pressure in his arsenal. Take a look at this move he pulls on TCU’s left guard in the bowl game this season:

Buckner 1

Buckner has the kind of speed and quick power at the line he is often accused of lacking, enough to leave offensive linemen swinging at nothing as he slips past them. He isn’t necessarily the most fluid and natural athlete, but he has the ability to beat players quickly and cause problems.

He also has the raw power and brute force to go right through them. Take a look at what he does to Washington’s right guard for this sack:

Buckner 2

This gets heralded as the one thing Buckner does well, or his greatest strength, but only 11 of his 67 pressures this season were bulrushes. He’s certainly very good at it, but he has a lot more in his arsenal.

Buckner’s pass-rush is probably his strength, but he’s a problem in the run game for offenses too. He recorded 36 stops against the run this year, which was fourth among all 3-4 DEs, while his run stop percentage was fifth.

You don’t have to go far into the Oregon State game to see the impact he can have in this area. On just the second play from scrimmage Buckner powers inside the tackle and single-handedly blows up a run play. This is the kind of game-changing ability that can change blocking schemes if done consistently, or cause them major problems all day if it isn’t.

At 6-7 and upwards of 290 pounds, this is a player with prototypical length and size to play 3-4 end in the NFL. As teams become more attacking to match up with pass-oriented offenses, however, we are seeing more teams use players like Buckner as a moveable weapon across the defensive line. The Houston Texans have transitioned JJ Watt – similar in stature – from an interior player to an edge rusher, and the New York Jets have employed Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson as edge rushers this season despite both being natural interior players.

Buckner has the skill set to do similar things, and would be a fascinating option for the Titans at the No. 1 overall pick. If they elect to go elsewhere he could make an impact for most teams in the top 10, with San Diego, Baltimore and San Francisco in particular standing out as natural fits.

What he struggles with

Given the previous section… not much.

Though I invoked the name of JJ Watt earlier, Buckner is not Watt. They may have similar body types, but Watt is significantly more explosive and quick in space. Buckner is more of a Calais Campbell type who is quick and fast enough to win at the line, but won’t run down a mobile quarterback if he sees it coming early enough and gets out of the way.

Despite 67 total pressures this season Buckner “only” had 12 sacks. There were multiple plays throughout the season where he generated quick pressure but couldn’t finish, finding himself outmaneuvered in the backfield by a superior athlete, or simply lacking the burst to close the distance between himself and the quarterback once he had defeated his blocker.

Buckner 3

Take this play against Eastern Washington in the very first week of the season as a good example. Buckner is playing right out on the edge, and though he beats the tackle to the outside almost immediately, there is no urgency with the speed at which he closes on the quarterback and it takes long enough that he has time to step up and deliver an accurate pass before being taken to the ground.

If you compare that to the kind of closing speed Watt displays when he beats a man early – either on the edge or inside – it is a different world. This is part of the reason some are much less sold on him.

The other area of weakness for Buckner is holding up against the double team. If teams get two solid bodies on him at the line he can be blown off the ball with alarming speed. This was a particular problem against Michigan State this year where Jack Conklin and LG Travis Jackson buried him on occasions. Buckner had his wins too, but it is definitely an issue he needs to work on at the next level, especially if he finds himself in a defense that requires him anchoring against two bodies initially before help arrives.

The bottom line

Buckner is the classic example of play-by-play production trumping highlights. There has been no more productive football player in the nation over the last season or two than Buckner. He was a dramatically better player than Arik Armstead on the same defensive line a year ago, and has only improved since. Armstead went 15th overall in the first round last year, perhaps more for his potential than his productivity.

Some are going to focus too heavily on what Buckner can’t do. He won’t run down athletic quarterbacks, he will get blown off the ball at times, and he will leave some plays on the field. But if you instead look at the sheer volume of plays he is disrupting and instead focus on what he can do, then you see a player that deserves to be in the conversation when the Titans are discussing the No. 1 overall pick.

Buckner is a player that can fit in any defensive front and make a huge impact inside, and brings with him the versatility to move around and cause problems. He has consistently proven to be more disruptive than people expect him to be when you tally up all of the plays he makes, and he is one of the very best players in this draft.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • sjt2115

    His total production is great. My question is, how does his his per-play production stack up? As PFF has said, Buckner played a lot of downs, including 2 games this season with over 100 snaps. How much of his amazing production is a result of simply playing so much in passing heavy conference? If he had a more “normal” snap count would his numbers still be as dominant?

    • Mike J.

      Now see, that is the type of thing that keeps me reading ”Comments.” Thanks for the fresh take….. Er, NK.

    • PFFSamMonson

      It’s not AS good, but it’s still very good. At some point games with 100+ snaps are actually a problem in terms of generating pressure. Requires serious durability/stamina.

  • Tim Edell

    Great article Sam love these Analysis Notebook breakdown on prospects. After watching film on Buckner I came away much more sold on him then I was before. The only weakness besides what you have mentioned is technical ones that I believed can be corrected with coaching. I have noticed he has a tendency to play a bit high after the snap which is common for a player that is 6’7″. IMO once he plays with better pad level it will improve dramatically his ability to take on the double team blocks that you mention he struggles with. Hard to imagine him falling at the farthest 7 to 49ers and definitely could be in play for the Titans at #1.

  • ben

    He fills a need. Draft linemen, nott qbs

  • Mike J.

    Interesting. I was just reading a piece on Noah Spence, & watched some highlights this morning, & the thought struck my pea-brain that Noah would be a great anti-Cam weapon for my Bucs. From the ”Struggles” section above; Buckner, not so much.Looks like he belongs inside in a 43, or as a five in a 34.Though if anyone can still two-gap these modern man-mountain OT’s….I can remember when Sherman Plunkett was literally a joke, simply because he weighed 300 lbs,. BTW. Not that he wasn’t a good player.

  • SoPe

    How does he compare to Aaron Donald coming out of college?
    I know they have very different bodytypes and playingstyles..
    But the overall disruptiveness and quickness inside?

    • Ne0guri

      don’t even compare… Aaron Donald is a freak of nature. He is in my opinion the only other player that is on JJ Watt’s level. This dude at 285 ran a 4.68 40 AND benched 35 reps!! Since the first tape I watched on Donald, I knew he would be a superstar. His burst off the line is just not fair against lineman. I am not as impressed with Buckner, but that doesn’t mean he CAN’T have the potential to be as good as Donald (though I highly doubt it).

  • david nordstrom

    LOL The draft has been a crap shoot since day one!!! Some of it is scheme, some of it is coaching, some is chemistry, some is just how hard the player practices his craft once in the NFL!. How can an undrafted FA come out of nowhere & lead his team in whatever then go to the pro bowl?? Actually happens quite often. All of them look good on their “Highlight Film”

  • Judge Harbolt

    You can’t judge a guy buy being wowed by how he does vs Georgia State and EWU. The only scouting that matters is how he does against good lineman. If you go to youtube and watch him against good teams with good lineman, you see something alarming. Not only does he do poorly, those teams actually run at him. He is far worse than the guy on the other side. He has great difficulty reacting to running backs that run through his gaps as if his brain is too slow or he does not see them quickly enough to usually even attempt a tackle. But he seems to have difficulty shedding blockers as well when the guard or tackle plays for Ohio State or Michigan State or even Arizona State. He should go high due to coaches egos that think they can turn his physical potential into tackles. But if I ran a NFL team, I want to pick in the 1st round a great athlete that is already a great college football player, not a guy that looks great only against Georgia State or one play against a bad TCU O-line that may turn into a tackler against NFL lineman.

    • sjt2115

      Ya, let’s see how he does against some good lineman! Like say, Joshua Garnett, winner of the Outland Trophy and #1 rated guard in the country this year. I’m sure Garnett would have taken him to school.

      Oh wait: https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2015/11/15/deforest-buckner-shuts-down-joshua-garnett/

      • Judge Harbolt

        The MSU game is a Buckner play by play video you can watch for yourself on youtube. Watch the 3 run stops and note when in the ball game they occur and how much yards was gained and who else was in on the tackle. Keep track of how many times MSU ran right at him and how he responded. The PFF article proves nothing. Let your eyes be the judge. I will say it seemed more a lack of run stopping talent than Jack Conklin domination, but Jack did very well. Watch the OSU national championship game. He looked pathetic and was ran at the very first series (albeit a whole year ago). Even ASU highlights showed rollout TD pass with QB rolling out toward him, TD run targeting his gap.

        • sjt2115

          Ya, I’ve seen that video. I see run stops early in the game where he blows up the line of scrimmage and makes tackles for loss or no gain. Is that supposed to be bad?

          Look at the scorebook. Most of MSU’s rushing that day came on 2 big runs, 1 where Buckner was stunting away from the play at the snap, and 1 where he was double teamed, did his job, and multiple linebackers missed easy tackles. There was 1 other 18 year run where they ran it out wide, nothing to do with Buckner. That’s 118 of their 197 yards on the day on plays that’ weren’t Buckner’s fault. Besides that they ran 34 times for 79 yards, 2.3 YPC.

          I’m really wondering why you bother with PFF if you don’t even trust their system. THEY watched the whole game too. THEY graded it. They had him as the #1 defender on his team that day, and gave him a run defense grade of +5.6 for the game. The film seems to bear that out. But I guess a couple highlights are more important that grading every snap.

          • Levin Adkins

            Why should he accept everything PFF says as the truth and not watch and form his own opinion based on what hes read and what he has seen?

          • Judge Harbolt

            I appreciate your reply. I enjoy comparing opinions. PFF claims he had 3 tackles. cfbstats.com gives him 1 tackle(for a 3 yard loss) and 4 assists. Your assesment seems to disagree with both stats. I like PFF because it is unique. I agreed with their Treadwell assessment, but not their Buckner one. You and I have extreme and opposite points of view, so my play by play analysis would not cause you to change your mind and would be a waist of time. I would love for others to watch the youtube vid or vids for themselves and join in on the fun.

    • http://jonathanmarcus.tumblr.com jonathanmarcus

      Based on the tape I watched (Michigan State, Stanford and a few others), I had a very similar take as Judge. I’m not nearly as impressed as PFF seems to be. I’d rather have Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech as a 3-technique.

    • Mauro Molinari

      Right.

  • Jason Waltner

    Did Tim Tebow have great production during his time at Florida? I would think his production was off the charts too. I could be wrong…..

    I am hesitant to put so much weight on these type of stats. Use them, yes but to have it be an end all, be all…..it’s a flawed system.

    A concern I have with taller DL is can they keep a lower pad level. It’s tough to get the pad level when you are 6’7….

  • Mauro Molinari

    Ok,my scout’s eye come from 6.000 miles away . . . but I would not touch this player in the first round, Granted

    • sjt2115

      Glad you’re not a scout for my team.

  • pacman

    How’d he do against NFL draft able players like Conklin?

  • [email protected]

    Ahhhh Sam said it, and it’s why I hope the Chargers will not draft in the first round at #3. I’ve watched his film, yes dominate against small school talent. But against Washington St and Michigan St he got assed kicked. Look at the article chart, many highs and lows. A very raw talent. GO BOLTS !!!!

  • GodisColorless

    Buckner sure does create quite the stir. I’m on record in the comment section on every Buckner article that this dude is one of the more overhyped prospects I can remember. Sure they don’t play the same position but reminds me hell of alot of Melvin Gordon. A guy that I watched and could clearly tell wasn’t that good but scouts were completely in love with him.

    All the commenters saying he doesn’t play well against good competition are completely right. I even find the article itself to be a contradictory. How is a guy who plays 5 technique but can’t beat double teams and doesn’t have the speed to turn the corner and tackle athletic backs belong in the discussion to go first. I mean 5 techniques have to be able to beat double teams. Come on man. And, if he can’t catch mobile quarterbacks, how is a match for the Ravens? Has anybody noticed that the division features Big Ben, Andy Dalton and now RG3? If the dude can’t sack a moving QB how in the world are we supposed to win our division relying on this guy to produce sacks. Not to mention the tackles include Andrew Witworth, Joe Thomas and Ryan Harris…geez. This guy won’t be a top 10 ten and Lord have mercy on the GM who takes him anywhere in the top 3!

  • Southern Strategery

    Buckner needs to be in a system where his responsibilities are primarily of the one-gap kind. He’s too tall and lean to two-gap anywhere along a 3-4 front. Has anyone mentioned whether he can rush a la Mario Williams in a standup role?

    I love seeing D-lineman the size of Buck Buchanan, Lamar Lundy and Doug Atkins returning to the game. But they faced O-linemen that were considered large at 270 lbs. And the last 6’7″ member of an All-Pro D-line was Dave Butz in 1983. Buckner is a longshot for stardom, emphasis on the “long”.