No NFL rookie defensive lineman has more tackles and has played more snaps this season than DeForest Buckner, one reason 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil thinks Buckner is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“I think he’s done an unbelievable job,” O’Neil said Tuesday of the first-round draft pick. “And for such a young guy, he’s the ultimate professional.”
Of course, the coaches in Atlanta, Jacksonville and San Diego might differ over who’s the top defensive rookie.
Falcons inside linebacker Deion Jones leads all rookies with 102 tackles and has three interceptions, two he returned for touchdowns. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has broken up 15 passes and intercepted two. Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa leads all rookies with 9 1/2 sacks.
Buckner, meanwhile, plays on the league’s worst defense in yards and points allowed.
Buckner and Ahmad Brooks share the team lead in sacks with six, and Buckner had perhaps his best game of the season in Saturday’s win over Los Angeles. He finished with four quarterback hits, including one sack, along with two tackles and a batted pass. He has 71 tackles, 19 more than the next rookie defensive lineman on the list, Cleveland’s Emmanuel Ogbah.
O’Neil said that during Saturday’s game, Buckner got on the headset with O’Neil, who was in the coaches’ booth, and urged him to call an alignment that would put him in a one-on-one situation with a Rams guard.
“So I gave him a four-man front rush on the next third down,” O’Neil said. “And he called it. He beat him and got a sack, so that was pretty cool. I mean, a rookie saying, ‘I can beat this guy on third down. Give me a shot at him.’ And he did and he came through on it.”
Et cetera – Left tackle Joe Staley (hamstring) warmed up on a side field alongside center Marcus Martin (ankle) and guard Andrew Tiller (undisclosed injury) on Tuesday. Staley later joined practice and said he was optimistic about playing in Sunday’s finale against Seattle. He’s missed the past three games.
▪ Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (knee, ribs) and safety Dontae Johnson (groin) practiced Tuesday. Neither played Saturday.
▪ The 49ers placed running back Carlos Hyde (knee) on injured reserve and signed defensive lineman Zach Moore, who was waived by Dallas on Monday. Moore, a sixth-round pick by New England in 2014, also has spent time with Minnesota.