Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting a Replacement for DeForest Buckner Would Be a Mistake

Michael Cataldo
Apr 12, 2020 at 9:00 AM

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.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Gabe
    Why would you even mention Blair? He's not a defensive tackle. smh. I also disagree with you Matt. You don't give Solly the job. Make him compete for it and earn it. He doesn't deserve a handout just because he was a top 5 pick.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 9:52 PM
  • WildBilll
    No it would not be a mistake if Kinlaw was drafted. He would play more and make more of an impact than a wr, If he is gone then go wr or trade back. Consider this. The line is not deep as you may believe and the players are part of the rotation which Buckner played a lot. Bigger yet is that all those players are on one year deals. Probably not going to be able to sign them, especially when you add the DBs on the last year of contracts, not to mention Kittle going to eat up money. Better to shore it up and keep it stabilized. On defense you need talent. Offense you can scheme. Plus you can still get a wr to match Sanders later in the draft. Bourne will get even better next year..
    Apr 12, 2020 at 9:15 PM
  • matt
    give the spot to Thomas...either perform like the 3rd overall pick or you're gone...pretty easy
    Apr 12, 2020 at 5:45 PM
  • Bill
    I agree with you about Blair, BUT, you're assuming he comes back from that knee and is JUST as effective as he was BEFORE the knee. As you well know, sometimes that just doesn't happen. We've seen it (Gurley) time and again. Some injuries can be career wreckers or greatly reduce a player's ability on the field. Let's hope that Blair comes back and resumes his old ways, but let's not bet the farm on it either.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 5:36 PM
  • Frank
    Kinlaw's the 2nd rated DT on most draft prospect lists...only behind Derrick Brown. You can't leave a gaping hole in the DL without trying to close it. Javon's got all the tools...size, quickness, nastiness, etc. I believe Coach Kocurek could get the most out of him and that should result in very good things. Buckner was a real cog in the just can't expect that group to be as good without him. That said, you have to shore the DL up as much as you can. It's a strength of the team that needs a shot in the arm. Also hope Lynch drafts a top OT and interior OL. Games are won in the trenches. Why do you think the Ravens have beefed up their DL so much? The Niners set the bar high last season and the NFL's a copycat league. Late in the SB neither Garland nor Person could block Jones and his mates from getting to JG. That has to change. Again, you win in the trenches...ask any HC in the NFL and they'll tell you that.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 5:02 PM
  • Fan49
    100% agree with you. Kinlaw won't probably be as good as Blair, or Jones year 1 out time is now. Let's get better. We for the win. Maybe a tackle. Other than that it's a waste
    Apr 12, 2020 at 3:19 PM
  • Gregg Cataldo
    Where you from Michael? I'm from South Bend, Indiana. Going by the 49ers draft visits, they're looking at a penetrating, one gap DT in round 2.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 1:22 PM
  • DJ
    Considering Lynch tried to sign Suh it seems they're not as confident in those replacements as you seem to think here. Jones also has durability concerns. He's not a three down workhorse like Buckner who never missed games.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 11:22 AM
  • Destroy'sRUs
    You definitely contradicted yourself in the article by mentioning the reason the niner's defense was so good was it's depth. Two years ago they said the niner's secondary wasn't very good. Last year they were mostly praised. What was the difference? Easy, the defensive line gave the quarterback little time to throw last year which made the secondary look better. With a great D-Line, mediocre corners look better. Javon Kinlaw is a perfect replacement for Buckner, as he is quick and can get to the quarterback as an interior DL. If he is available at pick 13 and none of the receivers you covet are available, then take Kinlaw to keep that DL depth going.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 10:39 AM
  • NinerTy
    You can’t “replace” DeFo. But what you CAN do is obtain more depth on the Dline to keep the players fresh and keep the pressure up front consistent throughout the game. A WR with good route running ability, good hands, fights for the ball, and speed to take the top off the defensive secondary is essential in making this offense virtually unstoppable. And an Olineman or two to keep Jimmy Gangsta upright wouldn’t hurt ????
    Apr 12, 2020 at 10:07 AM
  • Skip
    I disagree, build in the trenches...OL & DL. Replace Buckner and find Staley’s eventual replacement
    Apr 12, 2020 at 9:30 AM
  • Domingo
    Riiight. Blair, Jones, Street and Taylor all coming off IR? Riiight, we don’t need no stinkin DL.
    Apr 12, 2020 at 9:26 AM

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