» Buckner has some lofty goals for himself heading into the 2020 season: While everybody knows the Colts’ team goal this season — winning a Super Bowl title (more on that a little later) — it’s always interesting to hear what specific individual goals the players are trying to achieve heading into each year.
Linebacker Darius Leonard, for example, has said he’s always striving to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year. So what about a similarly talented defender like Buckner?
First, he wants to eclipse the NFL single-season sack record of 22.5 set by the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan back in 2001 (Buckner’s teammate, Justin Houston, came the closest with 22 sacks with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014).
“I mean, if you play D-line and that’s not your goal, I don’t know you’re playing D-line,” Buckner said of Strahan’s sack record.
Buckner also mentioned wanting to be named First-Team All-Pro after earning Second-Team honors for the first time in his career last year with the San Francisco 49ers. Along similar lines, Buckner wants to be voted a Pro Bowl starter for the first time; he played in his first-career Pro Bowl back in 2018, but was selected as an alternate.
But back to that Super Bowl title: Buckner and the 49ers got oh-so-close last year, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs — who scored 21 straight points in the final 6:13 of the fourth quarter — in Super Bowl LIV. For his part, Buckner was a monster in that game, finishing with six tackles (1.5 for a loss) with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits, and he’s hungrier than ever to get back to that big game and cash in this time.
“Being short last year obviously left a bad taste in my mouth,” Buckner said. “Obviously not a lot of guys are able to make it to that game in their career, but also when you get there, you’ve gotta make it count. And I wasn’t able to make it count last year. So I feel like we have the team that can do it, and we’ve just gotta get it done.”
» Along similar lines, Buckner does feel a little “slept on” compared to other top players at his position across the league: While last year’s Second-Team All-Pro selection indicates a little bit more recognition starting to come Buckner’s way, he did admit to feeling a little bit under-appreciated league-wide.
It’s something the former seventh-overall pick out of Oregon has gotten used to since entering the league in 2016.
“That’s my entire career,” Buckner said. “Every year, I’m coming out and playing with a chip on my shoulder. Even if the recognition doesn’t come, I let my play speak for itself.”
Bucker has been among the best players at his position in the NFL the last two seasons particularly: among defensive tackles over that span, he ranks third in sacks (19.5), second in tackles (78), third in tackles for loss (26) and tied for fourth in quarterback hits (34). Only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones can boast better overall stats than Buckner since 2018.
Somehow, Buckner just this year made his first-ever appearance on the “NFL Top 100 Players” list — which is voted on by fellow players across the league — coming in at No. 56.
“I mean, I put up the numbers over the past couple of years,” Buckner said. “I do believe I’m slept on. It’s all good. It just fuels a fire for me. It keeps me on my toes, it keeps me motivated to really get my name out there and prove myself in this league. And honestly it’s only benefitted me.”
The good news for Buckner is, one, he’s just 26 years old, an age where many are just entering the primes of their careers; he has plenty of time to continue blossoming into one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact the Colts know exactly how good Buckner is — and how much better he can become — and went to great lengths to both acquire him (trading the 13th-overall pick to the 49ers) and then sign him to a long-term deal this offseason.
» Buckner can’t wait to suit up in practice against the Colts’ offensive line: They say “iron sharpens iron,” and that will certainly be the case starting Aug. 17, when the Colts can begin padded practices at training camp for the first time.
The offensive and defensive lines certainly benefit from any offseason on-field work, where they can refine their techniques and fundamentals, but when the pads finally come on, that’s when the big boys up front can really get after it.
The Colts boast one of the best offensive lines in football, which should only help Buckner and his teammates along the defensive line prepare for the 2020 regular season — especially considering the fact there won’t be any preseason games this year.
But Buckner also acknowledges that will be a two-way street.
“Anywhere you go, honestly, you want to go against the best,” Buckner said. “We have the best offensive line in the league, and to be able to go against guys like Quenton (Nelson), it’s going to be a great opportunity for not only me, but also the other guys in the room, being able to go against the best every day. You get to the game (and) it’s going to be easy for you.
“I feel like it’s vice versa,” Buckner said. “There’s not a lot of guys that are like me, you know what I mean? Big, lengthy, powerful and can also show this quickness. So it’s going to be a mixture of things that I can give the offensive line — different looks at that can make their jobs easier come gameday.”