Part of what makes football so unique is that it truly is the ultimate team sport. With the exception of the quarterback position, it is extremely rare to have any single player completely change a franchise's fortunes for the better. How often can you point to the acquisition of a single non-quarterback and identify that as the objective turning point for an entire organization?
For these 49ers, that moment came on April 25, 2019, when they used the number two pick in the draft to select Nick Bosa out of Ohio State. At the time, the pick felt like a home run, as Bosa was a highly touted prospect for years who likely would have been taken number one overall had the Cardinals truly taken the best player available approach.
It was the kind of pick that provided hope and optimism to a storied franchise that had been a laughing stock for the previous five years, but nobody could have envisioned just how profound the impact of this selection would be.
Life before Bosa
Let’s look at where the 49ers were leading up to the 2019 draft, coming off of their second season under Kyle Shanahan and the current regime. They were 10-22 in those first two years under Shanahan, with a tremendously underwhelming defense that had issues getting after the quarterback.
Since Bosa has arrived in San Francisco, the 49ers are 39-16 in the 55 games Bosa has started. On the flip side, they are 15-31 under Shanahan in the games they have played without Bosa on the field.
Now there might be some pushback that no matter how talented Bosa may be, he alone shouldn’t be credited with the over 30 percent swing in winning percentage that the 49ers have experienced with him in the fold.
Let’s look at an area where Bosa has had a more direct impact, which has translated to the monumental success the 49ers have achieved with him on the field. Here is how the 49ers' defense ranked under Shanahan before Bosa’s arrival:
Points allowed - 25th
Yards allowed - 24th
Sacks - 26th
Points allowed - 28th
Yards allowed - 13th
Sacks - 23rd
Now, look at 2019, a year in which Bosa registered 102 pressures and took home rookie of the year honors while being one of the best edge rushers in the league in his debut season.
Points allowed - 8th
Yards allowed - 2nd
Sacks - 5th
Immediately Bosa’s presence lifted defense that had been porous prior to his arrival into a top 10 unit across the board, which played a major role in the 49ers' spectacular season in 2019 that fell just short of a championship.
With much of the same roster in place in 2020, you get a good illustration of just how important Bosa was to a defense that still had many of the same players who helped them achieve their elite status the year before.
Bosa missed 14 games that season after tearing his ACL in Week 2, and this is how the 49ers' defense fared in his absence:
Points allowed - 17th
Yards allowed - 5th
Sacks - 22nd
Now, look at 2021 and 2022 and how the 49ers' defense has fared since Bosa returned from that ACL injury, a span during which he has not missed a single game.
Points allowed - 9th
Yards allowed - 3rd
Sacks - 5th
Points allowed - 1st
Yards allowed - 1st
In year four, Bosa is the frontrunner for the prestigious defensive player of the year award, mainly due to the distinguished honor of being the best player on the best defense in the entire NFL.
Going back to Bosa’s debut season in 2019, only two players in the entire NFL have logged more sacks than the 50 that Bosa recorded since entering the league. TJ Watt has 57, and Myles Garrett has 52.5 over that span, but Bosa has paced both in the pressure he has been able to generate consistently.
Here is how the three stack up in the number of pressures they have averaged per game since the start of the 2019 season:
Bosa - 6.0
Garrett - 4.6
Watt - 4.3
When Bosa arrived, the 49ers were still an unknown. A team with a vision for success but no tangible results in the midst of a five-year playoff drought that had only won 31 percent of their games under the regime that was brought in to change everything.
Since that fateful day when the 49ers turned in the draft card with Bosa’s name on it, they’ve won 70 percent of the games that he has played and made it to at least the conference title game in both of the seasons that Bosa has remained healthy throughout.