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INDIANAPOLIS – It was a major component in why the Colts felt sending away the No. 13 overall draft pick was worth it for DeForest Buckner.

Buckner is an All-Pro talent.

Everyone can see that on the field.

But he’s also elite in the character and leadership department, which are areas the defensive line will be leaning on in 2021.

Gone are Justin Houston and Denico Autry, and their 230 games of NFL experience.

When you look at the Colts d-line room around Buckner, it’s a group mostly of players trying to establish themselves in the NFL, whether that be as a rotational player or as a starter.

In April’s Draft, the Colts spent their first two picks at defensive end—selecting Kwity Paye at No. 21 and Dayo Odeyingbo at No. 54—and that was when Buckner knew it was time for him to work.

“As soon as they got drafted I sent them a text just saying I’m excited to work with them moving forward in the next however many years we are going to be here together – telling them that it is just the start,” Buckner says.

“I’m excited to kind of mentor them a little bit and show them the ropes a little bit as they get through all the things that rookies do. I did it a little bit in San Francisco so it is nothing new to me.”

Buckner, 27, isn’t some wily, crusty veteran on the back nine of his career.

He’s in his prime and that should resonate even more to the younger defensive line guys around him.

Following the draft, Buckner heard Chris Ballard make the physique comparison of Odeyingbo to No. 99 in blue and white.

“Definitely have a similar build,” Buckner (6-7, 295) says of himself and Odeyingbo (6-6, 276). “Length is really good, especially at our position, being able to get that extension off of O-lineman. He definitely kind of reminded me of myself back in college. He definitely has a future at defensive end.

“The way he plays, too, he plays with a lot of effort and I love that because I’m the same way. I’m excited for when he gets healthy and we can start working together hands-on.”

In just one year, Buckner has gone from the shiny new toy to the most experienced guy in the defensive line room.

Safe to say the Colts feel very, very good about Buckner in that mentorship role as the D-line looks for others to emerge.

“DeForest has already been setting the pace as far as working out, as far as when we’re having our Zoom meetings, his participation and leadership in those meetings, his work ethic off the field,” Frank Reich said back in the spring. “One or two of the guys (Ben Banogu, Taylor Stallworth) were working out with him so just leadership in that regard.

“I think all the guys know that the eight-week period that we’ll have before training camp is going to be important. That’s where veteran leadership is important, just checking up on other guys, especially defensively with that young group. Get everybody working on the things that are going to make us a great defense and DeForest is a 10 out of 10 leader in that regard.”