SANTA CLARA — Judging by the numbers, DeForest Buckner was snubbed.
The third-year defensive tackle is enjoying the best season of his career, but it was not enough to warrant an outright bid to the 2019 Pro Bowl. Buckner was named as an alternate, meaning he will not play in the game unless replacing a player participating in the Super Bowl, a player ahead of him is injured, or he simply declines to participate.
Each conference includes three interior defensive linemen. For the NFC, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (16.5 sacks, 48 tackles, and 20 for loss) was a no-brainer. And while the other two inclusions, Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox (7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and nine for a loss) and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks (6 sacks, 41 tackles, and 11 for a loss), have played well, neither have matched Buckner’s production through 14 games. Buckner has compiled a career-high 11 sacks, 60 tackles, and 16 for a loss this season.
Stats aren’t everything, but anyone who has watched the 49ers consistently has seen Buckner’s impact on plays that don’t result in his sack or tackle for loss. Facing frequent double-teams, Buckner has been disruptive all year long, in both passing and rushing situations.
That explains Kyle Shanahan’s surprise with the snub.
“The DeForest one shocked me,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “I thought that was done.”
The 49ers will have at least two representatives in the 2019 Pro Bowl, including fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is a starter, and tight end George Kittle, who is a reserve. Linebacker Mark Nzeocha and kicker Robbie Gould join Buckner as alternates.
Buckner was the most notable snub, but Shanahan also said he felt Gould, left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Richard Sherman had chances. Staley has been named to a team-high six Pro Bowls, and Sherman has been named to four.
Kittle celebrates over “a bunch of Chinese food”
Kittle was in the middle of lifting “leg day” when Shanahan called him with the news that he was named to the Pro Bowl. Kittle said he finished the lift strong because of his excitement.
“(I) kind of felt like a little kid, just seeing Santa Claus,” Kittle said Wednesday. “It was just a fantastic feeling.”
The honor has not gone to his head, though.
“I don’t think anyone ever arrives,” Kittle said. “I got a lot to prove. You can get better at something every single day.
Kittle celebrated his first Pro Bowl bid by eating “a bunch of Chinese food” and watching “Bodyguard,” a hit drama television show on Netflix. This is not much different from a typical night for Kittle.
“I could eat Chinese food like six days a week,” Kittle said.
Jeff Wilson responded well
With five minutes remaining in the first quarter of San Francisco’s 26-23 win over Seattle last Sunday, 49ers rookie running back Jeff Wilson fumbled for the third time in three weeks. Wilson, an undrafted free agent out of North Texas, entered the NFL with ball security issues. He fumbled once per 33 touches in college.
Wilson has impressed since being promoted from the 49ers practice squad four weeks ago, posting 4.4 yards per carry. But his fumbling has become a major concern.
After he coughed up the ball in the recent win, Wilson was given six carries for the remainder of the game. Shanahan planned to ride Matt Breida, who had returned after missing the previous week with a bum ankle, for the remainder of the game, but the injury flared up late. So, Shanahan turned to Wilson, who stepped up in overtime. He ran the ball on three consecutive plays — his first resulted in a 16-yard gain — to set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.
On Wednesday, Shanahan praised Wilson for responding to a couple unfortunate plays. In addition to his fumble, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when it appeared he tossed the ball at a Seahawks player. Shanahan said the player was in the way of the referee, and the act was unintentional. Wilson made a special-teams tackle on a kickoff after his fumble in the first half. And when Breida shouldered the rushing load, running backs coach Bobby Turner frequently checked in on Wilson to gauge whether he was ready to re-enter the game.
“You can tell a guy who wants to go back in and a guy who doesn’t want to go back in,” Shanahan said. “Jeff wasn’t trying to hide and just hope to get out of it. He wanted an opportunity, and we were confident to give that to him if it presented itself, and it did when Breida went out.”
Wednesday practice injury report
The 49ers had just one player — Nzeocha (groin) — who did not practice Wednesday due to an injury. Joe Staley was given his weekly off day.
Those who were limited in practice included: Breida (ankle), Antone Exum (hip), Weston Richburg (knee), Malcolm Smith (achilles), Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder), K’Waun Williams (knee).
Tartt, the team’s starting strong safety, has not played throughout the past three games. Williams, the team’s starting nickel corner, has not played in the past two games. A pair of budding rookies, Marcell Harris and D.J. Reed, have filled in for them and played well. It appears Tartt and Williams are on track to potentially return Sunday, in San Francisco’s home finale, against the Chicago Bears.