The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the NFL for many reasons, but the biggest is rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa. The second overall pick has been making a major impact for the 49ers each week. He’s elevated the play of everyone around him and seems to be hitting his stride at the halfway mark of the season.
If Bosa wasn’t already a shoo-in for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he should be after his best game yet in Week 8 against the Panthers. In fact, he should a top candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, full stop. Who needs rookie honors when you’re feasting on hapless offensive linemen every week?
Let’s take a look at what Bosa’s been doing, with a focus on his dominant game against the Panthers, and then evaluate his chances of earning DPOY honors.
Here are all the ways Bosa makes life hell on quarterbacks
In seven games, Bosa has seven sacks, 20 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, 21 pressures, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception. His tackles for loss are tied with Aaron Donald for the most in the NFL. Bosa also leads all rookies in quarterback disruptions, according to Next Gen Stats. That is all while playing just under 70 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
He had a huge performance in Week 8 with his first career interception and a career-high three sacks in a game. He really can do it all. Observe:
There you have a man getting hit with a cut block, but instead of being cut, Bosa jumped up and made an interception off of Kyle Allen.
After the pick, Bosa showed some serious skills as a ball carrier, too. He recovered from a stumble, shook Allen off of him, pushed DJ Moore out of the way, shook Allen off again, then finally went down well into Carolina territory. He just missed it, but he wanted that touchdown SO BAD.
You can see more of the ridiculous athleticism his body is capable of on this play:
Look at the pressure put on his legs to get back in the play. It’s a standard speed rush that worked so well that Bosa nearly overshot his target. Instead, he planted all his weight into one cut, and shot right into Allen for his first sack of the day.
You can see his other two sacks from the Panthers game below:
On the second sack, he flat-out beat the left tackle with a speed rush and Allen had absolutely no chance to do anything on the play. On the third, he recovered well after being blocked to pull down Allen before the quarterback could escape outside the pocket.
He’s showed up big time in other games too. One play on which he didn’t get a sack was one of his most impressive yet. It came against the Rams’ veteran left tackle, Andrew Whitworth.
That’s Whitworth getting manhandled like it was his first NFL game, and Bosa caused enough confusion for someone else to eventually bring down Jared Goff. Bosa has the power to do that to most tackles.
Before he destroyed the Panthers, Bosa’s defining game came against the Browns in Week 5. He recorded a pair of sacks and a season-high five quarterback hits.
Bosa got squeezed between two players here, but his momentum was such that he was still within grabbing range of Baker Mayfield, bringing him down for a loss. His explosiveness off the line, which sees him mauling the left guard while being blocked to the ground by the left tackle, is a beauty to behold.
In the play above, Bosa went for the outside rush, but the left tackle compensated well. Once Bosa engaged with him, though, he switched to a power rush. With Mayfield dropping back deeper in the pocket than he perhaps intended to, Bosa was able to get around and bring him down, deep in his own territory.
These are just a handful of plays. He doesn’t get there on every down, but he’s the most important piece of a defense is ranked first in the league in yards allowed per play (4.1), second in net yards per pass attempt (3.9), and first in adjusted sack rate. Bosa’s play up front sets the tone for the rest of the defense.
Is Defensive Player of the Year a reasonable goal for a rookie?
In the history of the award, only one player has ever earned DPOY honors as a rookie: Lawrence Taylor in 1981. Sacks were not tracked officially until the following year, but the accepted number for Taylor that year was 9.5 sacks. The future Hall of Famer also had 133 tackles, two forced fumbles, and an interception; most importantly, he was widely feared around the league.
Taylor won the award on the back of his unrelenting play. Hearing some of the people talk about Bosa, he brings a similar presence to the table. His teammate, Richard Sherman, was particularly complimentary after the team’s Week 8 win.
“He’s an incredibly poised player,” Sherman said. “He’s everything you could ask for. He’s probably one of the best picks in 10 years with just how he’s played, and he’s played like this since day one.
“Right now, he should be in line for defensive MVP,” Sherman said.
Another teammate, Jullian Taylor, had a much more brief statement to get his point across:
Bosa is a real live alien super saiyan— Jullian Taylor (@JuTaylor8) October 28, 2019
On top of all of this, Bosa is on pace for 16 sacks this season, which would break the rookie record. The record is 14.5 sacks, held by Jevon Kearse from 1999. Former 49er Aldon Smith came close to breaking it in 2011 with 14 sacks, while Dwight Freeney totaled 13 in 2002. If Bosa stays healthy, he’s got a great shot at owning the record by the end of the season.
Who is Bosa’s main competition for Defensive Player of the Year?
That’s a tough question, because no one player has emerged as the frontrunner. The two best defenses in the NFL belong to the Patriots and the 49ers, and both have a solid candidates. For the Patriots, that’s linebacker Jamie Collins.
Collins is probably Bosa’s biggest competition right now. He’s got three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), four passes deflected, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 10 total quarterback pressures. Coming from the linebacker position, Collins has more tackles and interceptions than Bosa, but they both set the tone for their defenses.
Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett was the leader after the first month of the season, though his production has tapered off somewhat. Still, he has 10 sacks on the year — currently tied with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett for the most in the NFL — having grabbed eight of them in the first three games of the season. He’ll remain in the race, especially if he can pick back up.
Chandler Jones seems to always fly under the radar, but he is getting some attention this year. The Cardinals’ dominant pass rusher is sitting at 8.5 sacks on the season, along with nine quarterback hits, a whopping four forced fumbles, and 21 combined tackles. This could finally be his year if he keeps it up.
Other players, like Garrett, Luke Kuechly, and Danielle Hunter, are impressing in the stat column and deserve to be in the conversation. But Bosa’s case is stronger, at least halfway through the season.
Bosa has a head full of steam on every single play, using an arsenal of power and speed moves to continually pressure quarterbacks. It’s an extremely welcome sight for a 49ers defense that has been without a high-end pass rusher since Smith. He hasn’t shown any deficiencies in stopping the run, either.
Bosa whirlwind of ferocity who gives every snap 100 percent, creating as much havoc as possible from his side of the field. In turn, that allows his teammates who aren’t known for being sack artists to get free. Players like Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones, and Ronald Blair have all been cleaning up with Bosa’s help. He makes life easier for a somewhat thin 49ers secondary, as evidenced by their 10 interceptions, which is significantly up from the paltry two picks they managed in 2018.
Bosa is doing all of this as a rookie, too. Whether or not he actually wins the award this year, he’s making his case for being the top defender in the entire league.