Oregon Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner expected to leave for the NFL after his junior season before seeing what he called “the bigger picture” and ultimately staying to finish his degree, he told a Honolulu television station this week.

Buckner is back in Hawaii, his home state, after spring academic quarter final exams. Most Oregon players will report back to Eugene on Monday for the start of summer classes and conditioning workouts. 

Buckner told KHON-TV in an in-studio interview that prior to last season he likely would have expected to report to an NFL city rather than Eugene for his senior season.

“Deep down I wanted to leave but at the same time I looked at the bigger picture and I’m almost done with school,” Buckner said (video of the interview is below). “I just wanted to finish out with school getting my degree because I know it’ll come in hand post-NFL.” 

In the interview, Buckner didn’t say whether his offseason knee surgery also played a role in his decision to stay for his senior season.

Buckner told the station he holds a criminology major — his Oregon bio lists general social science — but he also holds high esteem in the eyes of many NFL draft analysts, some of whom considered him a likely first-round selection had he joined fellow Hawaiian Marcus Mariota and fellow UO defensive lineman Arik Armstead as Oregon’s early entrants in the 2015 draft. 

ESPN’s Todd McShay put Buckner on the bubble of his “way too early” predictions for the 2016 NFL draft first round. Buckner’s 81 tackles in 2014 ranked fourth-most for Oregon. He also had a team-high 13 tackles for loss.

Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS each project Buckner to be among the top 17 picks of the 2016 draft.

Buckner is the rock around which Oregon’s defense will rebuild this fall after losing three starters in the secondary, two starters at linebacker and one — Armstead — on the line. But that figure doesn’t account for the loss of defensive lineman Sam Kamp, who’d developed into a valuable reserve able to plug into Armstead’s role when injuries forced the current 49ers rookie to miss nearly three games.

The 6-foot-7, 290-pound Buckner said in April, during UO spring practices, that he expects to be healthy by the time fall camp practices open Aug. 10. His participation in closed spring practices was said to be minimal; he wore a red, no-contact jersey but did take part in some drills.

His absence may have helped Oregon.

Without Buckner available for every drill, teammates including early enrollee Canton Kaumatule — who joins Buckner as a Punahou High of Honolulu graduate — earned more reps. In the spring, defensive coordinator Don Pellum said he could foresee a defensive line rotation going six or seven Ducks deep.

— Andrew Greif

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