San Francisco 49ers: Why Nick Bosa is the Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Bosa is the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year and deserves to become only the second rookie Defensive Player of the Year.

Not since Lawrence Taylor in 1981 has a rookie won Defensive Player of the Year. Eleven games into his first season in the NFL, it is clear Nick Bosa deserves to follow in his footsteps.

Taylor’s arrival in New York helped transform the Giants from perennial loser to playoff team. The Giants had one winning season in their previous 10 years before 1981. With Taylor playing a starring role on defense, the Giants made the playoffs for the first time since they contested the 1963 NFL Championship game.

The Defensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Bosa’s influence on the San Francisco 49ers has been just as crucial. The Niners’ playoff drought is not comparable to the one 1981 Giants ended, as San Francisco contested the NFC Championship game at the end of the 2013 season. However, it is tough to envisage their turnaround being quite as emphatic without Bosa playing a dominant role on their defensive line.

After going 4-12 in 2018, albeit without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for most of the year, the Niners share the best record in the NFL at 10-1. Their pass defense is the best in the league, allowing an average of only 136.9 yards per game, with Bosa’s ability to generate pressure almost at will pivotal to the performance of Robert Saleh’s group.

Through 12 weeks, Bosa has racked up 54 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He leads NFL defensive linemen in PFF’s pressure rate and pass-rushing productivity metrics. His pass-rush win rate of 21.9 percent is the best PFF has recorded in the first 12 weeks of any season stretching back to the 2006 campaign.

His relentless pressure of quarterbacks has so far netted Bosa eight sacks as well as 14 tackles for loss, an interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

Beyond his production, where Bosa’s influence has been most telling is in the impact he has had on those playing alongside him on a stacked 49ers defensive line. Most tackles have found it near impossible to cope with Bosa’s blend of explosiveness, power, hand usage, and a well-refined set of pass-rush moves. As a result, quarterbacks have frequently had to move off their spot to evade him, only to end up in the arms of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, or Dee Ford.

Armstead leads the team with 10 sacks and is enjoying a career year, Buckner has 5.5 after racking up 12 in 2018 and Bosa’s fellow edge rusher Ford has 6.5. The levels of disruption San Francisco’s front has caused has also made life much easier on a secondary that has performed at a significantly higher level than anticipated.

Bosa has plenty of competition for the award. New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore appears to be the favorite and continues to further his cause by consistently shutting down opposing receivers. Shaquil Barrett and Chandler Jones share the league lead in sacks with 12.5 apiece while Minkah Fitzpatrick has kept the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff race with a stunning season in which he has recorded five interceptions.

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Yet none of his apparent rivals for the award have had the same transformational impact on a unit that has served as the backbone of a team enjoying such a substantial turnaround. When the time comes to hand out the end-of-season prizes, Bosa should be picking up both of the major defensive honors.

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