EDGE Nick Bosa is expected again to be an integral part of the 49ers defense in 2021, but he’ll need help as he makes his way back from an ACL tear.
It’s amazing the San Francisco 49ers defense remained a top-10 unit last season despite suffering so many injuries, including that infamous season-ending ACL tear for the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year, EDGE Nick Bosa.
Bosa went from a 2020 candidate for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award to a possible 2021 Comeback Player of the Year accolade after tearing his ACL in Week 2 last year against the New York Jets.
And while the Niners have to be thrilled about getting Bosa back, especially in light of his recovery apparently going well, both Bosa and San Francisco’s defense have to understand he’ll need a little more support this upcoming year than what would otherwise be anticipated if he didn’t suffer the injury.
Bosa has now suffered two torn ACL tears and also a core muscle injury, which eliminated almost all his final season back at Ohio State. And while he’s only 23 years old, the 49ers will want to be cautious with bringing him back into the fray at a too-fast pace.
Nick Bosa will probably be limited by 49ers early in 2021
While Bosa was known for his prolific pass-rushing potential when he came out in the 2019 NFL Draft, his abilities as a run-stopper made him an excellent three-down player, which ultimately translated to him seeing 76 percent of the Niners’ defensive snaps his rookie year en route to nine regular-season sacks and 16 tackles for a loss.
ACL recoveries can be tricky. And without diving too deep into the recovery process and how players project to return — let’s let the medical professionals do that — it’s a pretty safe bet to assume Bosa won’t see anything close to roughly three-quarters of San Francisco’s defensive snaps this upcoming season.
Fifty percent? Maybe. Brought in solely for third-down pass-rushing situations? That’s a possibility, too. At least for now, as Bosa works his way back to get into true football shape.
Right there, that points out a contrast to the easy-to-suggest notion Bosa will automatically make fellow 49ers defensive linemen, such as Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, better just by his mere constant presence.
In short, players like Armstead and Kinlaw will have to get by without Bosa more often than they’d ideally like.
Nick Bosa, 49ers will need other D-linemen to step up in 2021
Assuming Bosa doesn’t see as much of the field in 2021 as he’d prefer, the focus for a revamped Niners defensive front becomes much more important.
One of San Francisco’s offseason priorities was to infuse speed into its D-line, highlighted by re-signing EDGE Jordan Willis while also bringing aboard speed rusher Samson Ebukam, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers D-line was notably slow last year in the wake of injuries to Bosa and fellow EDGE Dee Ford, whose back injury likely keeps him out for most, if not all of 2021.
It also helps explain why the Niners reinforced the interior of their D-line, too, with players who also boast a good deal of speed.
Nose tackle Zach Kerr has plenty of movement skills, having ran a 5.08 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, which certainly isn’t bad for a 300-pound lineman. Two other D-line additions, former Las Vegas Raiders linemen Maurice Hurst and Arden Key, also ran sub-5.0 40-yard times during their respective pre-draft workouts.
San Francisco will need those players to step up, too, especially if Ford remains out indefinitely.
The 49ers have to take the long approach with Bosa, realizing he’s more valuable to the defense for years to come and not worth risking another lengthy and serious injury by forcing him to assume too big a role too soon.
Yet if the Niners defense is going to get back to its pass-rushing dominant ways in 2021, other players outside of Bosa will have to shoulder their share of the load.