SANTA CLARA – The campaign has begun for 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil stated his case Tuesday for the No. 7 overall pick in the draft to become first 49ers player to win the award since Patrick Willis in 2007.
“I don’t know how he’s not going to be considered for the defensive rookie of the year,” O’Neil said of Buckner. “If you look at his numbers compared to every defensive tackle in this league, he leads the NFL in tackles for all the defensive tackles. He’s at the top in sacks. He’s played the most plays of any defensive tackles in the NFL
“He’s done an unbelievable job. And for such a young guy, he’s the ultimate professional.”
Buckner leads all rookies with 71 combined tackles this season. He ranks second in the entire NFL behind the New York Giants’ Damon Harrison, a fifth-year player who has recorded 82 tackles.
Buckner’s top competition for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year figures to come from fellow first-round draft picks Joey Bosa and Leonard Floyd, and second-round pick Deion Jones of Atlanta.
Bosa leads all NFL rookies with 9.5 sacks, but has missed five games, including a length contract stalemate with the San Diego Chargers after being the No. 3 overall pick. Bosa has 36 tackles.
Floyd, the No. 9 overall pick of the Chicago Bears, is tied for second among NFL rookies in sacks with seven. Yannick Ngakoue, a third-round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars, also has seven sacks. Floyd has 33 tackles, while Ngakoue has 20 combined tackles.
Buckner ranks fourth among rookies with six sacks while playing more snaps than any interior defensive lineman in the league. He is tied for the 49ers lead with Ahmad Brooks.
“His progression has been awesome -- it really has been,” O’Neil said. “Early on, he had to learn how to get his pads down. Now you see him dominating at the line of scrimmage and knocking guys back instead of stalemating or, at times, being knocked back.
"You’ve seen the progression of him as far as a pass rusher from the start of the season to now."
Jones, a linebacker, could be a strong contender. In addition to being the co-leader among rookies with three interceptions, Jones also has recorded 102 tackles in 14 games.