At the mid-way point of the 2019 NFL season, San Francisco rookie Nick Bosa has firmly cemented his place in the running for defensive player of the year. Bosa has lived up to and succeeded the expectations placed on the 2nd overall pick notching up seven sacks, eleven tackles for loss, thirteen QB hits and of course one interception.
So let’s take a look at what makes Nick Bosa a possible transcendent rookie talent.
Week One @ Tampa Bay
Bosa missed a large portion of training camp with a semi-serious high ankle sprain, however, he still showed flashes of great potential against the Buccaneers in week one. This play comes close to the end of the second quarter on a 1st & 10. The Niners have their four main starters along the line, Dee Ford as the LE, Arik Armstead as the 3-technique and DeForest Buckner as the 1-technique. The presence of Buckner and Armstead, two man mountains, allow for Bosa to be isolated one-on-one with the Buccaneers LT Donovan Smith. Bosa and Ford are lined up at the 9-tech, extremely outside of the Tampa Bay tackles, this demonstrates the Niners newly implemented ‘wide-9’ defence.
Bosa’s get-off and speed are on full display here, the rookie stunts outside, shifting Donovan Smith’s weight onto his left side and then cuts back across him and flies into the backfield. Bosa is unable to finish the sack due to the elusiveness of Buccs QB Jameis Winston, showing that this guy is a rookie and there are going to be some flaws in his game. But Bosa has done well to eliminate missed sacks, seeing his total mount up as the weeks go on.
Week Five vs. Cleveland
Nick Bosa took full advantage of the opportunity Monday Night Football presented him. Against the Browns, Bosa had a breakout game on national television while simultaneously getting revenge on Browns QB Baker Mayfield for previous college exploits. While it is true that Bosa is fairly new on the scene, any game planner worth their salt would know not leave a tight-end alone on an island to block him. Unfortunately for Browns fans, head coach Freddie Kitchens found this out the hard way.
Here we see Bosa and co. lined up in a similar set as in the previous example. Four down lineman, Bosa, once again lined up far outside the left tackles shoulder, Buckner in the 3-tech, Soloman Thomas rushing from inside shoulder of the guard and Ronald Blair also playing some variation of the 9-tech.
When the ball is snapped, Bosa does not even acknowledge no. 88 attempting to block him and drives him back with a one armed bull rush. The entire time Bosa’s eyes are fixed on Mayfield until he finally shrugs off the block and forces Baker into an interception. The perfect example of the defence working as a cohesive unit and complementing each other. Pressure leads to tips and overthrows. Bosa’s influence is a huge factor in the 49ers defence going from having only seven takeaways all last season to the best in the NFL this year.
Sticking with the breakout Cleveland game, Bosa continued his dominant performance, eventually finishing with two sacks. Here we see the Browns in the 2nd & long, the perfect opportunity for Bosa to pin his ears back and go get after the quarterback. Kitchens had learnt from his earlier mistake and now has a LT blocking Bosa. The 49ers are once again only sending the four d-linemen and forcing Baker to make a read.
Bosa’s wide stance gives him ample space and time to explode off the line and gain momentum before engaging the blocker. Bosa proceeds to ride Cam Robinson and use his momentum and raw power to gain outside leverage. No. 99 DeForest Buckner does a fantastic job of penetrating the pocket and forcing Mayfield backwards right into Bosa who forces the fumble.
Week Eight vs. Carolina
If Week Five against Cleveland was a breakout game then Week Eight was a statement game for Nick Bosa. On a day when big brother Joey Bosa registered two sacks in a win against Chicago, Nick seemed determined to prove that he was on a level higher than big brother and the rest of the NFL for that matter. In the previous three examples we have analysed pressures and sacks by Bosa but let’s look at another aspect of his game- interceptions.
The Panthers are down big away from home and are leaning on second year quarterback Kyle Allen to bring them back into the game. The play previous, Carolina Panthers LT Amini Silatolu had delivered a rough chop block on Bosa, this time however, Bosa anticipates the chop and gets around Silatolu. The rookie then shows incredible improvisation skills by reading Kyle Allen’s eyes, reaching above himself and hauling in his career interception.
Although this play is a bit of a statistical anomaly, it shows Bosa’s ingenuity and ability to adapt to what the tackle is showing him throughout the game. This interception doesn’t happen if Bosa doesn’t anticipate the chop block.
While it is true that the 49ers contain a considerable amount of talent and pedigree along the defensive line, Bosa has helped elevate this unit to another level and is a perfect fit in Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme. There is currently no front runner for the DPOY award, of course Aaron Donald or Khalil Mack could kick it up a notch and mount a legitimate claim to the title, but for right now, the rookie is definitely in the conversation for the best in the NFL.