Those expectations got a boost from division rival Michael Bennett, with whom Buckner is working out with in Hawaii during the NFL's down time.
"I think DeForest, I'm lucky to be working with a guy like that," Bennett told KHON-TV in Hawaii. "I think DeForest will eventually be a Defensive Player of the Year. I think he has the talent to be able to do that. I keep telling him there's nobody like him. He's not normal. His physique, his speed, it's not normal so when you're not normal you can do not normal things and winning the defensive MVP is not normal for most people."
Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, owns a freak combination of size, speed and athleticism. At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, with quick-twitch to go along with impressive power, Buckner is a rare specimen.
As a rookie, Bucker was the 49ers' top defensive lineman and often overworked. He took 1,067 snaps on defense and special teams, per Next Gen Stats, an incredible sum for any lineman, let alone a first-year defender. San Francisco's new coaching staff plans to curtail that number with the hope Bucker is fresher this season.
The switch to a 4-3 defense won't hurt Buckner, who, like Bennett, possesses the physical traits to play both inside and outside on the line.
The 49ers' playmaker is taking Bennett's eventual DPOY prediction as motivation.
"That's what gives me a lot of confidence having a guy like him saying that I could be a potential MVP of the league one year, that means a lot," he said. "It makes me want to grind harder."