If you told 49ers fans a year ago that Arik Armstead would be the remaining Oregon Duck on the 49ers defensive line over DeForest Buckner, they would have rioted. But if there's anything we know about football, things change rapidly.

George Kittle and Buckner appeared to be staples on both sides of the field, with a massive extension looming for the captains. Then, Nick Bosa happened, becoming the face of the most feared defense in the league in 2019.

Fast forward a year later, and Buckner is shipped to the Colts, becoming the second-highest-paid defensive lineman behind Aaron Donald. What does that mean for our defense? Should John Lynch draft Buckner's replacement early in the draft? He should not, considering the lack of depth at secondary and wide receiver. More importantly, drafting a defensive lineman early (again) would be a mistake due to two studs already on the roster--Ronald Blair III and D.J. Jones.

Ronald Blair just re-signed with the team to a one-year deal, and general manager John Lynch expressed Blair's high value to the defense line.

"Ronnie is a great teammate, who has developed into a key contributor to our defense. His versatility and playmaking ability along with his strength of character off the field make him special. Ronnie's work ethic makes us confident he will return to form this season."
- John Lynch

Blair recorded 8.5 sacks over the past two years before tearing his ACL on Monday Night Football against Seattle during one of the most athletic sacks of the year on the ever so slippery Russell Wilson.


D.J. Jones will likely be the immediate replacement for Buckner for his ability to line up in front of the center. Those watching the Niners regularly noticed that Jones was a key piece on defense. The former 6th rounder was becoming a centerpiece of the defensive line rotation, racking up 19 solo tackles with 4 of them for losses. His season was also cut short after suffering a high ankle sprain in the famed shootout with New Orleans in Week 14.


What made the 49ers defense so scary to opposing offenses was their depth. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and D-Line coach Kris Kocurek could spell Buckner, Armstead, Bosa, and Ford with the versatility of D.J. and Ronald. With Blair and Jones sidelined late last season, the 49ers lacked depth and turned to Solomon Thomas, Sheldon Day, and Earl Mitchell to produce in that top-heavy rotation. Both Jones and Blair were deeply missed in Super Bowl 54 when the defense needed all the pressure in the world to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

Buckner was the epitome of reliability. The big man suited up for all but one game in 4 seasons and played the most snaps out of any SF defensive lineman in 2019. DeForest is irreplaceable--but if there's a D-line room that has the depth and resolve to step up, it would be Kris Kocurek's.

There's no doubt that Robert Saleh will need to rely on Blair and Jones for production with Buckner and Sheldon Day now in Indy. Anything from Solly, Jullian Taylor, and Kentavius Street would be added bonuses.

Assuming they stay healthy, the explosiveness Blair and Jones have shown should give Niner fans confidence that the best defensive line in 2020 will still reside in Santa Clara.

Oh, and they get buckets too.