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DeForest Buckner is a few moves away from greatness

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White ponders says the Oregon pass rusher is the kind of player who can dominate games at the NFL level if he learns how to use the right moves.

At 6'7 and 291 pounds with 34 3/8 inch-long arms, Oregon's DeForest Buckner defies easy comparisons to other NFL defensive linemen. The few names you do hear over and over are probably just guys who have played the same position who were the same height or taller.

Looking at you Calais Campbell!

While they are indeed the same height, around the same weight and will probably play essentially the same position in the NFL, I just didn't see much of Campbell in Buckner's game. They just don't move the same. As a matter of fact, Buckner is more of a combination of different guys than one guy in particular.

For example, Buckner is a cheeseburger away from 300 pounds, but if you see him by himself on the field he looks like a normal-sized human being. It's only when he is standing by an actual normal-sized dude that you see how wrong your initial perception was. That's kind of how Julius Peppers and Mario Williams are, too, when you see them on the field. I had to keep looking back at Buckner's combine measurements to make sure he really was that big because he looks more like a linebacker than this monster sized defensive end when he is in the frame by himself.

What keeps me from using Peppers and Williams as comparisons is that, quite frankly, both of those guys were were much better athletes coming out than Buckner showed himself to be on tape. Mario was almost exactly the same size and ran a ridiculous ass 4.71 40 while Peppers was a 4.68 guy. More importantly both guys played at those speeds, so their times weren't much of a shock. Buckner's 5.05 in the 40 at the combine is maybe a little slower than I expected compared to his film, but not by much.

Okay, so the size of Peppers and Williams, combined with the athleticism of ... well, how about Darnell Dockett?

Yep, that fits.

And you know what else? Even with the size difference I kept thinking about Darnell Dockett when I watched Buckner play. Like Dockett, he is a dog and fights his ass off even when he knows he is about to be double-teamed with little chance of success. Also like Dockett, he likes to rag doll blockers and physically dominate them rather than run around them in general. Both guys play a lot of power, but can also mix it up with some wiggle from time to time, too.

All good things.

Unfortunately Buckner also reminds me of Dockett in that I hate his hand technique at times.

When Dockett was really rolling with the Cardinals I would still be yelling at him through my TV trying to get him to escape off of blocks rather than just continuing to try to run over guys. He would have a dude completely on his heels, but instead of coming off the block clean to make the play, Dockett would just try to reach out to make the play with the distressed blocker still hanging onto him. Predictably, that ended badly at times. He made his share of plays, but Dockett also gave plays away almost every game that should have been pretty easy for him to make just by allowing blockers to hang around for too long.

I saw the same kinda thing happening to Buckner at times in these five games, too. He was clearly productive as a run defender and a pass rusher, but he could have put up even better numbers in several of those games had he just escaped off a few more blocks when he already had the blocker beat. That's one obvious area where he can improve.

Another thing that I didn't like to see when it came to Buckner's hands may not necessarily be his fault. While I may not agree with it, I've come to understand that a lot of the things I hate to see players do technique-wise in games, they are actually being taught to do these days. For instance, a lot of 3-4 defensive line coaches like to teach their guys to use arm-overs to escape off run blocks, especially their taller players. I would guess it's because taller players in general have a better chance of success when it comes to any kind of swim moves, everything else being equal.

Now, I vehemently disagree with using swim moves to escape off run blocks in most situations. I'm a big time "throw your rip to get off the block" guy. I think you end up being in much better positions to make a play as far as your balance, and also being able to clear yourself of the block consistently. If someone were to hire me to coach their defensive line, I would more than likely fine every dude who used a swim move to get off a block and didn't make a play every single time it happened. That's how serious I am about this point of disagreement.

I do have to acknowledge the alternate (read, wrong) theory about the best way to escape off run blocks because it can explain what guys are and aren't doing with their hands in college at times. Buckner rarely uses a rip to get off blocks -- when he does, it works magnificently -- and so he ends up off balance more than he should when he tries to escape of blocks and make plays.

I am not trying to give Buckner any excuses. After seeing him take on blocks the same way repeatedly and sometimes making plays that way, it was pretty obvious that he was more than likely doing as he was taught rather than just lacking in better technique. I don't feel like I can knock him for that. He wasn't great with his hands, but he was still good enough with them to show that he at least has a decent foundation with his technique. He just needs the kind of defensive line coach on the next level that can help him sharpen those skills and build on them.

Let me tell you what he won't have to work on.

This guy Buckner's power rush is pretty damned ridiculous, especially inside. You can tell he's strong AF watching him playing the run. Watching him swat 310-pound guards out the way like they are most disrespectful gnat ever is just amazing. Some of his bull rushes were so impressive that I had to keep looking back to see if maybe the offensive lineman had tripped over somebody's foot or something.


The fact that Buckner is 6'7 makes his effectiveness as a power rusher even more remarkable because of how well he plays with leverage. If he wasn't a knee bender, it would be a lot harder for Buckner to move people around the way he does. That saying that "low man wins" isn't just a saying when it comes to defensive line play.

Of course, that extended to Buckner's play against the run. Again, he had me questioning if he was actually 6'7 watching him get lower than that vaunted Stanford offensive line on third-and-short, for example. He may not have stopped the play by himself, but at least he gave his teammates a chance to stop it.

The flip side is that Buckner is every bit of 6'7 and relatively athletic, so on occasion he might use that to his advantage and jump over the offensive line on third-and-short to make the play in the backfield.

Yeah ...

Buckner also was pretty great at getting low to play off backside cut blocks without letting them get him to the ground. Tall guys are always going to have folks going at their knees and lower trying to slow them down, but Buckner didn't seem fazed by those blocks at all.

There are some unavoidable drawbacks to playing defensive line at that height that showed up on Buckner's tape. One big one is that when you get double-teamed, especially inside, it's usually a lot harder to stay low and not get moved. Even when you are as strong as apparently Buckner is, if one of those cats catches a guy that tall in the area on a double-team, then London bridge usually comes falling down. That's just how it usually goes.

Like I said, Buckner was no exception to this rule.

Which brings me to another thing, you also have to figure out where and how to play Buckner and what defense he will be best in. I think he could do well as a five-technique in any kind of 3-4 defense. Because of his height and ability he would benefit from being in a stunting style 3-4 that allows him to move laterally a lot, and avoid some of those double teams. He would be a decent left defensive end in a 4-3 defense, but I don't see pass rushing from the edge being a big part of what he should do.

At that height, I'm not sure I would want him playing the run full-time as a three-technique in a 4-3 either because I would worry teams would just double him all game and he might not be able to anchor down as I discussed earlier.

If a 4-3 team is going to draft him, they should try to use him like Michael Bennett (yes, another comparison) letting him play the run at strong side defensive end then allowing him to pass rush from the inside where he could wreck shop. Buckner and Bennett don't have the same kind of playing style, which is fine. Bennett relies a little more on his quickness and athleticism. Buckner is more of a power guy, but they can still get the same kind of results in similar roles in a 4-3 defense. Buckner plays pretty damn quick at times just like Bennett certainly plays with a good bit of power at times. They probably are less different as players than you think.

Now maybe the only way I could see DeForest Buckner not working out for whichever team drafts him, barring injures or a bad work ethic, is if they tried to make him a full-time edge player. I could understand the impulse to do so with his size and the success of guys like Williams and Peppers, but remember, he isn't in the same universe as those guys when it comes to athleticism. Not on tape and not in testing.

I just don't see him being a guy that can turn the corner with consistency, and that is going to make everything else harder for him to do if a team tries to make him an edge rusher. Move him around, let him play the run out there, but he will make his money being a matchup nightmare inside.

Other than that, I see Buckner as a top 10 type player on the field. Good defensive line coaches across the league have to be looking at his film and drooling over the possibilities. With Buckner's size, power, athleticism, technique level and motor, he is basically a big ball of clay just waiting to be molded into whatever they want him to be. That's the kind of guy who can take over every game if he reaches his potential, and make some GM look like a genius for drafting him.

He might not be the safest choice because there are definitely some things he has to work on to be great, but I would say Buckner certainly has the most upside of any defensive lineman I've broken down so far this offseason. And that's saying something.

Just imagine if someone teaches this kid how to win with a "long arm" pass rush move consistently ...

Since I don't have access to all-22 for college football games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to Draft Breakdown where they have the TV copy for a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Also, their site is compatible with the new NoHuddle app, which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker," which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner play against Michigan State, Washington State, Washington, Stanford and Oregon State. Those represented the second, sixth, seventh, 10th and 12th games on Oregon's schedule last season, respectively.