At the end of the season, it can feel like there is a mountain of award heaped onto players. For most players, the ultimate prize is a Super Bowl ring. They’d forgo all others for a Jostens-crafted hunk of precious metal covered in gemstones.
If you don’t believe me, ask former quarterback Dan Marino what he wants more: a wall full of individual trophies and immortality in the Hall of fame or a Super Bowl Ring.
One of the more objective, and sometimes overlooked awards is a spot on the first-team All-Pro roster. At times, fans may hear that a player ‘made the Pro Bowl five times in his career,' which is a nice honor, but boils down to a student body popularity contest.
The Associated Press All-Pro team, which started in 1940, is the oldest selector of the NFL’s best players. A national panel of journalists choose the first and second-team members of the All-Pro team.
So, on an 0-5 team, why bother looking for All-Pro team members?
Because if San Francisco 49ers’ the defensive lineman DeForest Buckner isn’t selected as a first-team All-Pro, the AP might as well choose a new panel of voters.
It’s hard, even as someone who’s watched hours of football for the past 30-something years, to attend a live game and pick out All-Pro defensive linemen.
Additionally, one cannot read the statistics page and base an All-Pro lineman on statistics alone.
Defensive linemen don’t collect tackles like a linebacker or interceptions like a defensive back. Their job is to take on the double-team, which frees up the linebacker to shoot the A or B-gap and make the tackle. It’s a thankless, bruising job that is not for mortal men.
The 49ers have had All-Pro defensive linemen before, notably, Justin Smith who was named a first-team All-Pro in 2011 and a second-team All-Pro in 2012. Before coming to the 49ers, Smith had an excellent year with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006. He had 50 solo tackles – a career high for him at the time – and seven-and-a-half sacks, just short of his career high of eight sacks.
Those are good numbers, but he didn’t make the All-Pro team or the Pro Bowl.
In 2011, Smith had 45 solo tackles and seven-and-a-half sacks was named to the Pro Bowl and was bestowed first-team All-Pro honors.
What’s the difference?
A good defensive lineman impacts every play. He is the player the opposition builds a game plan around; they don’t want to run his way, and they need to keep him occupied with one or two players.
Like Smith, Buckner is impacting plays for the 49ers. Look past other failures for the moment.
We know the defense is keeping the 49ers in the game, and placing the offense in winnable situations. Through the first four weeks of the season, Buckner had 23 quarterback pressures, the third among any defensive player (Source). He also had ten run stops.
Buckner keeps quarterbacks on the move, which creates rushed throws. Those rushed throws lead to interceptions.
He’s also been the most consistent player on the 49ers’ 2017 roster. It’s hard to compare offensive and defensive players, but ask yourself who’s been more productive than Buckner?
It’s hard to look four or five months into the future and guess who’s going to win individual awards. But through five games, Bucker not only deserves a look from the selecting panel, but he deserves their first-team vote.