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Why the 49ers took Nick Bosa with the No. 2 pick

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In 4 plays

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When it came down to evaluating the San Francisco 49ers second overall draft pick Nick Bosa, many critiques included something along the lines of “not an elite athlete”, or “doesn’t have a good first step.” If the problem for a player is “he’s not the same athlete Khalil Mack is”, then he’s probably really good. We haven’t really talked about Bosa for that reason. One thing I do want to highlight is Bosa and his ability to cover ground. I’ll use four plays from 2017 to do so.

Second and third steps

One area where many draft analysts fail at is putting too much emphasis on a players first step. The screenshots and GIFs look great when a player explodes off the ball and is in the backfield while the offensive lineman is still in his stance. I’ve made this mistake in the past plenty of times. I’ve also learned from that mistake. What I picked up on was that a players second and third steps are equally, if not more important than his initial step. It’s all about the ground you cover.

Check out this play against Michigan State. Bosa is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

That’s why referencing 10-yard splits are valuable. Bosa ran a 1.60 10-yard split. For reference, Mack ran a 1.59. Myles Garrett ran a 1.63. Bosa’s 10-yard split is elite. This sack against UNLV is another good example. You can see the ground he is able to cover in just three steps. Being able to turn the corner that quickly is special. That is something the 49ers have been lacking. He may not get the sack on the play, but he forces an errant throw. Bosa did this all the time at Ohio State. Bosa brings consistent pressure, and that’s why he was the pick at No. 2.

Play recognition

Bosa wins a lot. One of the reasons he wins is that he picks up on what the offense is doing instantaneously. Iowa has some nice wrinkles in their run game. They also have some very good players on the offensive line. This draft cycle I tried to watch players go against the best of the best. T.J. Hockensen was drafted at No. 8 overall. He’s believed to be one of the most dominating run blockers in some time. Many compared him to George Kittle, which I disagree with. Watch Bosa on this play.

Some of the best players in the NFL would run upfield here and take themselves out of the play. Bosa sees Hockensen trying to cut him off, and beats him to the punch. Speaking of punch, another critique is “he’s not as powerful as Joey.” Another silly statement. You can see Hockensen hop a couple yards from Bosa’s jolt. If his quickness wasn’t enough for you, being able to finish the play is icing on the cake. This play has it all.

Staying clean

Plenty of college players are going to have production. Not all of it transfers to the NFL. The players that are able to keep themselves clean are the ones that deserve to be drafted early. That’s Bosa. When he wins, it’s rarely ever “a hustle sack” where the quarterback is holding onto the ball. This sack against Rutgers is a good example. You’ll see him being able to turn the corner in three steps again. Watch how easy it looks.

What I like about Bosa is that he has a plan to rush the passer. If his initial plan doesn’t work, he has a counter. Not many pass rushers in college can say that.

Fits what you want to do

If Bosa can’t fit your scheme, then you probably need a new scheme. That said, there were plenty of reps at Ohio State where Bosa rushed from a “Wide 9”, which the 49ers plan to use more of this year. That’s right up the wheelhouse of new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. This play is against the Baltimore Ravens 2017 third round pick Orlando Brown.

While I think Bosa is better when when he’s right on top of the tackle, so he has true two-way go, he’s far from a slouch when he’s playing in a wide 9-technique.

That just speaks to what Bosa can do on the field. There is a lot of value in having a player on the defensive line that you can line up just about anywhere and know he will win. That’s Bosa, and that’s why he was selected at No. 2.