Sakamoto: 49ers DE DeForest Buckner Must Show Up Against Cowboys RB Ezekial Elliott



368. That’s the number of rushing yards the San Francisco 49ers (1-2) defense has allowed through the first three games of the 2016 season. Good for 23rd in the NFL, they will need a much better performance on Sunday, if they hope to contain promising Dallas Cowboys (2-1) rookie RB Ezekial Elliott.

The Cowboys first-round pick (No. 4) of this year’s NFL draft has lived up to the hype so far this season, rushing for 274 yards on 71 carries, while recording two touchdowns in the process. A very physical yet elusive running back between the tackles, it will be up to the 49ers defensive line to set the edges while flushing plays back inside.

VIDEO: 49ers DE DeForest Buckner Tested By ESPN Sports Science, Stronger Than Bighorn Ram?

Elliott currently ranks 3rd in the NFL in rushing, and the 49ers can only hope that their own first-round pick (No. 7) DE DeForest Buckner can start paying similar dividends as a stout edge-setter. After all, that’s one of the reasons they drafted DeFo in the first place.

Through three games, Buckner leads all 49ers defensive lineman in tackles (16). But that’s not saying much when you watch the game-film. His rhythm and timing on leveraging his blocks is spotty at best. I asked Buckner what’s the one thing he needs to improve on moving forward and he singled out the nuances of the “stack-and-shed.”

“I need to do a better job of knowing when to disengage. Sometimes I make a move here and the runner goes the other way, so I need to do a better job on that,” Buckner said. 

Sakamoto: 49ers DLC Jerry Azzinaro Briefly Stops Practice To Teach Rookies The Art of “Stack and Shed!”

49ers HC Chip Kelly’s coaching staff prides themselves on fundamentals as they should, and the stack-and-shed is no different. If you’ve been following our website, you will notice that DLC Jerry Azzinaro does a great job of coaching up his players on playing with proper pad-level, leveraging blocks, and the various techniques the team demands from a three-point stance, as the 49ers make that a point of emphasis in every practice.

Let’s be honest. We all know the 49ers invested back-to-back first-round picks addressing the team’s defensive end position with DE Arik Armstead (No. 17) and now Buckner. Two players who have high “potential,” it doesn’t mean much if they don’t live up to it.

Sure, Armstead is dealing with a shoulder injury and Buckner is still getting acclimated to the NFL game, but at some point we need to see these first-round picks making an impact- not just against the run but in the passing game as well. Buckner currently boasts a 0.6 overall grade by Pro Football Focus which is considered average at best.

So what should the Forever Faithful expect from Buckner this time around?

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

While 49ers DC Jim O’Neil dials up a simplified yet effective game-plan, look for Buckner to have his work cut out for him, as he lines up across Cowboys three-time Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith. The USC product saw his 55-game starting streak snapped due to a back injury last week but should return to action against the red and gold.

Smith is one of the best left tackles in the game. At 6-5, 307, Smith is definitely a man among boys, evident by becoming the first offensive lineman in 10 years to be named offensive player of the week back in 2014. Simply put, Buckner will have his hands full on Sunday, and this will be a good measuring stick to see how the Oregon product stacks up.

However, if for some reason Smith is inactive for the game, it will be up to second-year backup OT Chaz Green to relish the starting role. Green, a third-round pick (No. 91) of the 2015 NFL Draft, allowed no sacks in his first start this season, while helping Elliott rush for 140 yards against the Chicago Bears 3-4 defense.

But Buckner is more powerful at the POA (point of attack). He’s stronger while playing with a lower pad-level, and that alone should be enough to set the edge, all while making plays at or near the line of scrimmage.

VIDEO: 49ers DE DeForest Buckner Makes Biggest Rookie Impact, According To NFL Network Heath Evans

Whether Buckner goes up against Smith or Green, one thing is for sure, Buckner needs to bring his A-game on Sunday in order for his team to have any chance of pulling out a victory. A player who NFL Network Heath Evans singled out would make the biggest rookie impact, the time is now for the behemoth defensive end to shine!

In three games this season, Buckner has recorded 16 tackles while continuing to get the lion share of the snaps as the team’s right defensive end.

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.