SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As DeForest Buckner waited for his name to be called, he hoped for this very scenario: An Oregon reunion in Northern California.
Chip Kelly’s first draft pick as San Francisco 49ers coach is a familiar face from his days in charge at Oregon, with Buckner ready to join his old coach to help a formerly vaunted defense return to NFL elite status.
San Francisco selected the Ducks defensive end with the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, then traded with Kansas City to get a second first-rounder and fill a big need on the offensive line by selecting Stanford guard Joshua Barnett with the 28th pick.
Buckner will be part of ushering in the Kelly era after the defender was recruited to Oregon by Kelly and played his first season of 2012 during Kelly’s last in Eugene before the coach departed to take the Eagles’ top job. Buckner is an ideal fit as an end in San Francisco’s 4-3 defensive scheme. He had 10 1/2 sacks last season and was also credited with 16 quarterback hits and 39 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. He is also a strong defender against the run.
Buckner also will join former Oregon teammate and fellow 6-foot-7 defensive lineman Arik Armstead, the Niners’ first-round pick at No. 17 last year. They will be directed by their former Oregon position coach, too, new Niners defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro.
“I’m probably the happiest guy in the draft right now, being reunited with Arik, having that history with him back in Oregon,” Buckner said from his native Hawaii. “He’s a good friend. We’ve been talking about it a little bit throughout the draft process. I’m excited, I’m ready to go, and try to be a part of this team and win some games.”
San Francisco, which missed the playoffs for a second straight year, needed help in the pass rush after ranking 29th in the league with just 28 sacks after the retirement of defensive end Justin Smith last year and the release of troubled edge rusher Aldon Smith.
Now, Buckner immediately has a built-in support system around him as he makes the leap to the next level and the increased speed and pressure of the NFL game.
“I was praying to be reunited with Arik and Coach Kelly and Coach Azzinaro,” Buckner said.
This week, Armstead said he hoped Buckner might be the Niners’ top choice.
“That would be great,” Armstead said during the Niners’ offseason program. “That’s one of my closest friends. Having a chance to play with him again would be awesome. We started out together, and I wish I could have played with him one more year. So if we draft him, that would be awesome.”
Rather than getting a quarterback right away, San Francisco opted to upgrade its defensive line, and will likely look for a quarterback in the next two days of the draft. California star Jared Goff, selected No. 1 by the Los Angeles Rams, will make his debut against the 49ers in a Monday night game Sept. 12 at Levi’s Stadium.
Armstead can’t wait to get started with his new, old teammate.
“DeFo’s an awesome player. We played together in college and had some good times,” he said. “That’s my guy. We motivate each other.”
Garnett won’t even be leaving the Bay Area. He posted on Twitter, “It’s great to feel wanted, @49ers.”
He started 14 games for the Rose Bowl champion Cardinal at left guard last season, playing in front of record-setting running back and AP Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey.
Garnett could make an immediate impact on an offensive line that lost left guard Alex Boone to Minnesota in free agency.
The 49ers also received pick No. 249 in the seventh round from Kansas City, while the Chiefs got the 37th selection in the second round, 105 in the fourth and the 178th choice in the sixth.
Garnett became the 22nd first-round pick in Stanford program history.
“You know what you get when you get Joshua Garnett? You get a brilliant young man. He’s a biology major at Stanford University but you’re going to get a tough son of a gun,” said Stanford coach and draft analyst David Shaw. “This guy loves football, he’s physical, he’s nasty. He’s got some work to do as a pass protector, which he improved every single year, but right now you’re going to get an above-the-line one of the best physical run-blockers you’re going to see come out of college in the last couple years. And I can’t wait to see this young man play on Sundays.”