If you were to create a list of San Francisco 49ers players who face the greatest expectations in 2018, DeForest Buckner's name would be towards the top. Jimmy Garoppolo is the easy choice for the No. 1 spot, but an argument could be made for Buckner to be in the top three.
That's because Buckner's potential is unmistakable. The 6-foot-7 defensive lineman is on the cusp of NFL stardom, and the 49ers defense is desperate for game-changing talent. In 2017, he led the league with 19 quarterback hits but managed just three sacks. San Francisco's underwhelming records the past two seasons have also contributed to Buckner's play being overlooked on national level.
But people who follow the league closely know just how much of a force Buckner can be. That's why NFL.com's Shaun O'Hara ranked him sixth in a list of the top 10 defensive tackles in football.
"With John Lynch improving the supporting cast, we could be in for a real breakout season from Buckner in 2018," Harrison said.
Cassius Marsh, Jeremiah Attaochu and Eli Harold will have the opportunity to help Buckner boost his sack total this season. San Francisco's lack of consistent pressure off the edge was a major reason for Buckner's 16 near-misses. Solomon Thomas' continued evolution could also help take some of the attention off of Buckner.
If Buckner takes a big step forward, as the team expects him to, he will be a lock for next year's Pro Bowl. His new nickname, "D-POY" (pronounced dee-poy, which refers to the abbreviation for 'Defensive Player of the Year'), suggests that Buckner's teammates have ultimate faith in the third-year defensive lineman.
Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, Fletcher Cox, Geno Atkins and Kawann Short are the five players ranked above Buckner. Ndamukong Suh, Damon Harrison, Linval Joseph and Malik Jackson rounded out the top 10.