Pro Football Focus ranked the San Francisco 49ers' defensive front No. 19 when it comes to its ability to generate a pass rush. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seems confident the group can improve upon that ranking in 2018.

Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner will be the centerpiece of the unit heading into the upcoming season. His pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus (89.6) ranked third among interior defensive linemen in 2017. Buckner was the only player under 25 years old to be in the top 10 at his position in that category (thanks to Bret Rumbeck for that stat).


When it comes to pass rush productivity, Buckner is elite. He ranked second among interior defenders, behind just Geno Atkins, when it comes to total pressures (52), according to the analytics site. No interior defender forced more hurries than Buckner's 19. The only problem is that the third-year player produced only three sacks last season, a drop from the six times he brought down quarterbacks during his rookie campaign.

The pressure from Buckner is there. He just needs help from his supporting cast to take the focus off of him. Saleh and the defensive coaching staff, including defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina and pass-rush specialist Chris Kiffin, are formulating a plan to do just that. If successful, Buckner could flourish, and the sack numbers could finally arrive.

The 49ers have so much confidence in Buckner that several teammates have started calling him "D-Poy," reports Joe Fann of 49ers.com. It's a reference to the defensive lineman's potential to win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.

Buckner will need the sack numbers to win such an award. His low total last season made him, in the eyes of the Niner Faithful, a Pro-Bowl snub, not to mention many other annual awards of recognition.

"Buckner is an animal, man," Saleh told Fann. "He's very disruptive. He's up there with all the best in the league. He'll get better this year because our overall organization in how we operate up front will be better."

The 49ers need to have players like Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas finally reach their first-round potential and take some of the heat off of Buckner. Armstead has produced just six sacks in three NFL seasons with 1.5 coming in 2017. Thomas brought down quarterbacks three times during his rookie campaign last year.

"I'm really excited for Year 2," said Saleh. "I think we have a chance to build on what we did a year ago. I'm excited for the front four. I believe Solomon is going to take a big jump. I think Arik was really starting to come on before he got hurt."

The 49ers report to training camp on July 25 with their first practice scheduled for the next day.