49ers Nick Bosa bull-rushing his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers takes a selfie with fans before the start of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers takes a selfie with fans before the start of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers have received excellent production from their top pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, EDGE Nick Bosa, who could receive a lofty accolade this year.

The last time the San Francisco 49ers had a rookie win NFL Defensive rookie of the Year honors was back in 2007. That player was none other than five-time first-team All-Pro linebacker, Patrick Willis. A stellar rookie campaign, Willis led the NFL in tackles, racking up 174, leaving little doubt in voter’s minds as to who the cream of the crop was during that time.

Fast forward to today, and the Niners may strike gold 12 years later, with the rookie addition of EDGE Nick Bosa. The Ohio State product has been living in the backfield through the first three games. By my count, Bosa has recorded 1.0 sack, one quarterback hit and four quarterback pressures.

For those who have been following me over the years, you understand that my grading system for quarterback pressures are solely based if the play results in a loss of down or positively impacts the defense. Pro Football Focus (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area) has Bosa down for 17 quarterback pressures which leads the NFL, although it’s unsure how they grade pressure, as the category is vastly subjective, myself included.

Nonetheless, Bosa has been playing the role of situational pass-rusher relatively well, and teams are starting to take notice. In my pre-draft analysis, I labeled Bosa as a double-digit sack artist and a can’t-miss prospect. There was no doubt in my mind, Bosa would make an immediate impact coming off the edge, despite only being a rookie.


Because Bosa is a true technician at the point of attack with the fundamentals and skill set to match.

In college, edge rushers can usually get by with their raw athleticism. In the NFL, it’s an entirely different ball game.

No longer can you simply win with power on a straight bull-rush, knocking lineman off their spot. No longer can you use your deep speed to bend the edge, turn the corner, for that easy blindside sack. No longer can you rely on just your instincts to track down quarterbacks, running outside the pocket. The NFL is a different beast, and Bosa is dominating.

In his NFL debut, Bosa was credited with a sack and a quarterback hit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A sack made possible due to winning the down with fundamentals. In my tweet below, I did an in-depth breakdown of what went right on Bosa’s first career NFL sack.

From displaying an arsenal of pass-rush moves to winning with leverage, it was ultimately his pad level that won him the down. Most NFL teams teach the art of the pass rush using a combination of a rip, pull, club, spin or swim move, and it’s all dictated by leverage. Aside from leverage comes schematics and coach’s preference on which moves should be used based on the player’s technique.

In Bosa’s first game, he not only displayed pass-rush get-off but the ability to convert speed-to-power. In the link to his first sack above, I pointed out how Bosa dictated the left tackle’s leverage. He used a push-pull-rip technique by ways of an initial bull-rush. The get-off generated the speed, bull-rush generated the power, the rip generated the violent hands to chop down the tackle’s arm-bar.

The result, a savvy veteran move made by a rookie.

Bosa wasn’t done yet. To seal the 49ers win, Bosa used an old-fashioned club move to beat his man for a quarterback hit. A play that saw Bosa only taking two steps forward before flipping his hips, it was game over in a matter of seconds.

This time Bosa was lined up at nine-technique creating an isolation matchup with left tackle Demar Dotson. The ball was snapped, Bosa took two steps before quickly flipping his hips, preventing the right tackle from grabbing his near-side chest, and then finished the play with a punishing club move to maintain half-man leverage.

The result? An incomplete pass and a loss of down.

A nice NFL debut for the 49ers rookie. Then came Week 2. The buzz surrounding Bosa was a lingering ankle injury suffered back in August. Diagnosed with a right ankle sprain after undergoing an MRI, it was unclear whether Bosa would play against the Cincinnati Bengals, as the nagging injury continued to be an issue. This left his official status for Sunday’s game as “questionable.”

However, that didn’t stop Bosa from being active. He played and once again proved his dominance in the pass-rush department. By my count, Bosa racked up two quarterback pressures, including one in which Bosa used a rip-move, flushing Bengals QB Andy Dalton outside the pocket.

It was a technique in which Bosa again displayed his brute strength, engaging with the left tackle at the point of attack, while then converting speed-to-power using that inside rip move to gain inside leverage. Week 1 witnessed a push-pull bull-rush, Week 2 witnessed an inside rip.

No sacks in the game, but Bosa’s impact was evident, especially as the team’s situational pass-rusher. And the encore performance earned him high marks once again as an edge-rusher. But how would Bosa fare going up against Pro Bowl talent?

Facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, who boast one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Bosa would certainly have his hands full, going up against left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Think again.

In just his third NFL game, Bosa more than held his own, again racking up two quarterback pressures for the second consecutive game. A game that saw Bosa just brutally bull-rush Villanueva, knocking him down on his back, it became clear, that Bosa was the real deal, and could rise to the occasion, despite only being a rookie.

Next. Prospects 49ers should consider in 2020 NFL Draft. dark

On the surface, one would think Bosa would have more sacks through the first three games, but as I pointed out in this article, stats don’t tell the whole story. Too many times over, players are often overlooked in the NFL because they weren’t putting up gaudy sack numbers. And while sacks are a strong indicator of a player’s ability to push the pocket, quarterback pressures and knockdowns are just as important, as those can lead to not only loss of downs but interceptions.