For most Oregon football players, playing in Autzen stadium on Saturdays is the apex of their football career. However, a select few move on to the NFL. And among those lucky Ducks, few have had the impact of Deforest Buckner, currently a defensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts.
A four-year Oregon player, Buckner was a member of the elite 2014 team that made it to the national championship game. In his Oregon career, Buckner had 232 total tackles and 18 sacks, anchoring Oregon’s defense on a team that was known for its high-powered offense. His college career earned him looks from many NFL scouts and was taken 7th overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2016 NFL draft.
Buckner left one of the best college football teams in the country and went to a struggling NFL franchise. Buckner was not the only former Duck that suited up for the 49ers, as he was reunited with defensive end Arik Armstead. Former Ducks coach Chip Kelly led San Francisco when the 49ers posted a 2-14 record in 2016. At the same time, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee during the national anthem in order to shine a spotlight on police brutality in America. This created intense national media attention with many right-wing media and political figures calling for Kaepernick’s banishment from the NFL. Ultimately, he was exiled from the league.
However, Buckner was still able to establish himself in the NFL and made the 2016 All-Rookie team. He continued receiving individual accolades, including playing in the 2018 pro bowl. Buckner spent his next few NFL seasons putting up good stats on bad teams, as the 49ers were still one of the bottom feeders of the NFL.
But the 49ers flipped the script in 2019, and Buckner was once again playing for an elite football club. He was a key member of an elite defense, which included defensive end Nick Bosa and super bowl champion cornerback Richard Sherman. The 49ers bludgeoned opponents with their defense and ended the regular season 13-3. Buckner poured in 62 tackles and recovered four fumbles, including scoring a defensive touchdown on one of those fumbles.
San Francisco was able to run through the playoffs and hoisted the NFC crown. For the first time since 2014, Buckner competed in a championship game, this time against the Kansas City Chiefs. While having a solid individual performance, with six combined tackles and one and a half sacks, it wasn’t enough for the Niners, who lost 31-20.
The Super Bowl was the last game of Buckner’s tenure in San Francisco. In the offseason, he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2020 first-round pick. Buckner will begin his fifth pro season reinventing himself on a new team. In any case, Buckner established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL.