George Kittle

Why 49ers' DeForest Buckner was snubbed from the PFF top 101 list

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Why 49ers' DeForest Buckner was snubbed from the PFF top 101 list

When Pro Football Focus released its list of the top 101 players for 2018, 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was noticeably absent. He did, however, make another list: Top 10 players to miss the PFF top 101. 

Buckner has improved each season and posted personal bests in several categories in 2018. He had career highs in total pressures (53), defensive stops (37) and quarterback sacks (12). 

While Buckner has steadily become a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line, he did have one category that held him back from cracking the top 101: missed tackles. Of Buckner’s six missed tackles, five were against the run, which was ranked him tied for fourth-most at his position. 

Despite the missed tackles, Buckner was impressive. Only the Rams' Aaron Donald (20.5) and the Chiefs' Chris Jones (15.5) had more sacks. Only five players had more quarterback pressures than Buckner’s total (53). He also ranked 14th in quarterback hits (9) and 12th in hurries (31). 

When you take a look at the interior defensive linemen that did make the PFF 101, you'll notice that the players at the top of the list are on teams that also another standout defensive lineman playing alongside them. 

Donald has Ndamukong Suh, Eagles' Fletcher Cox has Brandon Graham, Akiem Hicks (Bears) has Khalil Mack and Jones (Chiefs) has Dee Ford and Justin Houston. If the 49ers can add a much needed edge rusher in the offseason, Buckner could become a similarly ranked player. 

Here are the interior defensive linemen in the PFF 101: 

1. Aaron Donald -- Rams
5. Fletcher Cox -- Eagles 
11. Akiem Hicks -- Bears 
15. Chris Jones -- Chiefs
17. Grady Jarrett -- Falcons 
43. Kenny Clark -- Packers 
57. Cameron Hayward -- Steelers 
61. Jurrell Casey -- Titans 
79. Geno Atkins -- Bengals 
83. Lawrence Guy -- Patriots 
88. Eddie Goldman -- Bears 
95. Ndamukong Suh -- Rams 

Buckner is entering his fourth season as a Niner and is eligible for a contract extension. His four-year rookie contract ends at the end of the 2019 season but does contain a fifth-year option. The 49ers have plenty of cap space available, which could be used to work a long term deal with the University of Oregon alum.

"We're going to do everything we can to ensure that DeFo is a Niner for a long, long time," Lynch said on KNBR in December. "I'm sure it won't be cheap, but those are all things you have to figure out. I can tell you that the motivation in this building is to keep him around here for a long, long time."

[RELATED: Buckner, Kittle top 49ers' list of award winners]

The 49ers hope to use free agency and/or the draft to get Buckner the help he needs to flourish -- perhaps by this time next year, he'll be a mainstay on the PFF list.

Buckner’s 49ers teammate George Kittle made the PFF top 101 list for the first time, slotting in at No. 13. Veteran tackle Joe Staley was ranked No. 96, making his sixth appearance on the list. 

49ers' George Kittle and Joe Staley recognized on PFF's top 101 list

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USATSI

49ers' George Kittle and Joe Staley recognized on PFF's top 101 list

The leader in NFL analytics has produced its annual list of the best 101 players in the league.

Tight end George Kittle and left tackle Joe Staley earned their spots on the rankings of the NFL’s best players in the rankings from Pro Football Focus.

Surprisingly, the 49ers' defensive teammate, DeForest Buckner, did not make the list.

Buckner was added to the NFC Pro Bowl team after a breakout season during which he led the 49ers with a career-high 12 sacks. Buckner, a three-year veteran, is eligible for the first time this offseason to sign an extension with the 49ers.

Kittle made his debut on the list at No. 13 overall. He led the 49ers with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards to set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season from a tight end.

”No player in the PFF era has ever racked up more yards after the catch in a single season than Kittle did in 2018. Not just tight ends -- everyone,” PFF wrote, in reference to his 873 yards after the catch.

PFF also noted that most of Kittle production came in the 13 games after Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury with reserve quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens distributing the football.

[RELATED: How Kittle wants to get even better in 2019]

PFF bases its list solely on the 2018 season, and performance in the postseason is also taken into account.

Staley made the list for the sixth time in his career, checking in at No. 96. PFF said Staley finishing in the top-10 in overall grade among offensive tackles. He allowed just 25 total pressures and four sacks in 609 pass-block snaps this season.

Here is PFF’s top 20:
1, DT Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams
2, WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
3, QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City
4, QB Drew Brees, New Orleans
5, DT Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
6, WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans
7, QB Tom Brady, New England
8, LB Bobby Wagner, Seattle
9, CB Stephon Gilmore, New England
10, DE Khalil Mack, Chicago
11, DT Akiem Hicks, Chicago
12, QB Andrew Luck, Indiananpolis
13, TE George Kittle, 49ers
14, S Eddie Jackson, Chicago
15, DT Chris Jones, Kansas City
16, DE Cameron Jordan, New Orleans
17, DT Grady Jarrett, Atlanta
18, LB Luke Kuechly, Carolina
19, DE J.J. Watt, Houston
20, S Jamal Adams, N.Y. Jets

How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats

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How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats

Pro Football Focus released it’s QB Annual report, a deep dive on each quarterback in the league. While there is an inordinate amount of information to try to digest, it does offer insights into interesting aspects of QB Nick Mullens and the 49ers offense. 

While Mullens had an average quarterback rating of 90.8 over his eight games with numbers ranging from 62.1 to 151.9, there were a few things that stood out after looking at the PFF metrics. 

Although Mullens was accurate in short-yardage situations and in a clean pocket -- ranking 15th of 35 quarterbacks -- his passer rating dropped to 43.1 when he threw 20 or more yards down the field. The average rating for the league was 97.3. 

Mullens very rarely threw the ball deep downfield. He completed safe throws when he had a clean pocket, but his productivity dwindled when under pressure. It dropped even more when scrambling. 

While that is a logical regression, Mullens fell significantly below the NFL average of accuracy when under pressure. He averaged 20 percent accuracy on the run, while the league average was 50 percent.

Many of those measurements seem logical, but what is interesting is how Mullens' inaccuracy has been somewhat camouflaged by the abilities of his receivers, as well as the scheming of coach Kyle Shanahan. 

Mullens averaged a 64.23 percent completion rate over his eight games, which isn’t far away from Tom Brady’s completion average of 65.8 percent. But he often threw to open receivers. Mullens' accuracy to open receivers was ranked 25th of 35 quarterbacks.

Once a defender was within a step or two of the receiver, Mullens’ completion rate dropped to 27 percent -- or 34th of 35 -- and in tight coverage he ranked 30th, at only 17 percent. 

Despite these stats, Mullens’ overall counting numbers were very impressive in his first season as a starter. His 2,277 passing yards in his first eight career starts are the fourth-most by a quarterback since 1970 (behind Patrick Mahomes' 2,507, Andrew Luck's 2,404 and Cam Newton's 2,393). 

How did Mullens get those numbers when he struggled in so many categories?

The answer is two-fold, -- both a product of Shanahan's offensive scheme, and also the receivers making plays on less than perfect throws.

Mullens struggled in delivering accurate passes to his receivers, which happened 11.0 percent of the time (3.1 percent below the league average). 44.9 percent of Mullens' passes were thrown within the frame of the receiver, which was only 1.1 percent lower than the the median.

Mullens’ most inaccurate spot? Placing the ball at a high point above the receiver, as seen several times when he was targeting All-Pro tight end George Kittle. While still catchable, 9.5 percent were thrown over the head of receivers, and another 9.5 percent ended up behind them. 

[RELATED: Kittle 'one of the luckiest guys in NFL' to play for Shanahan]

Shanahan’s scheming also allowed Mullens to flourish. His offensive strategy against coverages helped receivers get open, which provided a solid target for his second year quarterback. 

What everyone has to look forward to now, is how Jimmy Garoppolo will use the scheme to his advantage as he returns to the field in the coming season.

If Shanahan can make Mullens a star, what is the ceiling for the 49ers franchise quarterback?