You can make a convincing argument as to why DeForest Buckner should be this year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Jim O'Neil made one on Tuesday.
When the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator was asked about the first-round pick's improvement, O'Neil answered the question and then added his two cents on why the defensive lineman should be rewarded for his play.
"His progression has been awesome," the coordinator said. "It really has been. We've talked all year long about it. Early on, he had to learn how to get his pads down, and now you see him dominating at the line of scrimmage and knocking guys back instead of stalemating or at times getting knocked back. You've seen the progression of him as far as a pass-rusher from the start of the season to now."
Buckner has recorded 71 tackles, six sacks and two fumble recoveries in his rookie season. The coordinator continued his campaign for this year's seventh overall selection to pick up some coveted postseason hardware.
"I don't know how he's not going to be considered for the defensive rookie of the year," O'Neil said. "If you look at his numbers compared to every defensive tackle in this league, he leads the NFL in tackles for all defensive tackles. He's at the top in sacks. He's played the most plays of any defensive tackle in the NFL. I think he's done an unbelievable job. And for such a young guy, he's the ultimate professional."
O'Neil gave an example of Buckner's veteran-like play in last week's road win over the Los Angeles Rams. Buckner asked to go 1-on-1 on a third-down pass-rush against a Rams guard.
"He actually called his shot on his sack," O'Neil said. "He radioed up to me, 'Coach, give me a shot at this guard.' So I gave him a four-man front rush on the next third down, and he called it. He beat him and got a sack. So that was pretty cool. I mean, a rookie saying, 'I can beat this guy. On third down, give me a shot at him,' and we did, and he came through on it."
Should he win the rookie DPOY award, Buckner would be the first 49ers defender to win the honor since Patrick Willis took home the award in 2007.
Buckner leads all rookies with 71 tackles this season and has the second-most tackles of all NFL defensive tackles behind Damon Harrison of the New York Giants, who has 82 stops on the year.
San Diego Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa leads all rookies with 9.5 sacks. Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones leads all rookies with 102 tackles and is tied for the lead with three interceptions. Both figure to be Buckner's top competition for the award.
View the top shots of San Francisco's 2016 Rookie class.