Draft Daily: DeForest Buckner, the Uncertain Fit

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft slotted Buckner in Philadelphia, but would he fit the defense?

DeForest Buckner. (USA Today Sports)

DeForest Buckner. (USA Today Sports)

Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. We’ve already covered Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Vernon Hargreaves, Paxton Lynch, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and Ronnie Stanley. If you have a player you think should be covered, shoot us an email ([email protected]).

THE BACK STORY

It’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Do you pick for need or do you select the best player available?

In reality, draft day decisions are never that black and white. Teams contemplate position value, scheme fit and other factors many media members don’t consider. But Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner will prompt the Eagles to make an intriguing choice if he’s still available at No. 8.

According to our consensus prospect rankings, Buckner ranks sixth, ahead of Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and every quarterback in the draft. If he falls to the Eagles, Mel Kiper wrote yesterday that Buckner would be “a steal.” Last season, the Hawaii native was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, a USA Today First-Team All-American and a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.

The problem? He’s widely considered to be a better fit in a 3-4 defense than a 4-3.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote that “Buckner has the body type of a classic 3-­4 defensive end,” while Dana Brugler and Rob Rang, both of CBS Sports, said Buckner is “better suited for a 3-4 scheme” and that he “projects best as a traditional 3-4 defensive end.” Buckner was asked at the NFL Combine if there’s a specific system he’d prefer to play in, and whether he likes the 3-4 the most.

“To be honest, no. I feel like I can play in any system, whether it’s a 4-3 or 3-4. I fell like I can play in any type of system because I’ve played all types of techniques before,” he said. “I played a 3-4 at Oregon, so I feel like I fit pretty well if I go to a team that plays a 3-4. I feel like I’ll be able to pick up things really fast. With a 4-3, at times in high school I played in a 4-3, so I know I can play in a 4-3 as well. I really have no preference in where I go.”

According to Buckner, NFL teams that run a 4-3 see him more as a defensive tackle than a defensive end. As a 3-4 defensive end last season, Buckner’s sack total jumped to 10.5, compared to four the previous year. He also had 17 tackles-for-loss, and he attributed his success to a change of mentality more than anything else.

“This season, I just felt like a bully on the field. I was just more comfortable,” he said. “I knew coming into this season, I could really have my way with some guys. And when I stepped on the field, I just tried to be a bully.”

THE MEASURABLES

Except for the broad jump, Buckner’s measurables are pretty much all or nothing. He’s near the top of Mock Draftable’s defensive line database in height, weight, arm length and hand size, but he’s near the bottom in the 40-yard-dash, 20-yard shuttle, 3-cone drill and vertical jump. Because of that, there aren’t many players who are close comparisons to him.

Buckner’s hands came in at 11 ¾ inches, so media members joked about his hand size compared to Jared Goff’s and asked whether they’ve shaken hands before.

“No, I haven’t gotten to shake hands with Jared Goff yet,” Buckner said. “Growing up, I always knew I had kind of big hands. My siblings used to make fun of me. Coming here, I kind of knew I’d measure at a pretty big size.”

THE NO-22

One of the knocks about Buckner’s pass-rushing ability is he doesn’t have a great burst to finish plays and convert pressure into sacks. I agree that it will hurt him in the NFL, but one thing I enjoyed watching was how he started plays. He’s not going to kill you with speed or quickness, but he uses leverage very well. He also seems to do a good job with his hands.

One of my favorite snaps was a swim move he used against TCU’s left guard to immediately pressure the quarterback. He helped force a loss of three yards on the play.

One thing Buckner seemed to enjoy doing was using those huge hands of his to club linemen, as he did against Washington State to get a sack.

And here’s his bullrush against Washington that resulted in a half a sack for him.

However, Buckner’s strength is playing the run. He’s impressive at the point of attack and he takes advantage of his long arms. Despite facing a lot of double-teams, he did a good job of shedding blockers in the games I watched.

Here are a couple of clips from his game against Utah. The first is a tackle-for-loss.

And this one is a stop on third-and-short that forced fourth down.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As good as Buckner projects to be, and although he may be the best player available at No. 8, I’d have some questions for Howie Roseman if they pick the Oregon product.

If you’re investing a top-10 pick in a defensive tackle, do you not think Bennie Logan will transition smoothly from a 3-4 to a 4-3? Are you dubious that a Fletcher Cox extension will get done?

I’d be surprised if the honest answer to either of those questions is “yes,” which is why I’m not sold on the idea of bringing in Buckner, who appears to fit better in a different scheme and who plays the same position as the best player on your team — Cox — and a skilled 26-year-old — Logan.

Often times, top talents transcend schemes. But Doug Pederson has said multiple times how the Eagles want to add a pass-rusher. That’s why I could see them picking Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa if he falls, but I’d be a bit surprised if they select Buckner.