"I do believe I'm the best player in the draft. As a top player, if you don't believe that, there's something wrong."
- Joey Bosa, via Chase Goodbread, NFL.com
We're two months away from this year's NFL Draft, but with Combine events starting this week, talk of how the chips might fall in April is seriously heating up. One of the most notable draft prospects is of course Ohio State's Joey Bosa, entering the league after three seasons as a Buckeye. The Tennessee Titans have the top pick, and if it were up to Bosa, he'd be the name they called.
"I think (I'm) the best pass rusher, the best defensive lineman in the country," Bosa said, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. While that may very well be true -- you'll hear no arguments here -- that's no guarantee that Bosa will be the first player off the board. The Titans could certainly use the pass-rushing help, but it's pretty likely they'll go with Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil, an incredible talent on the offensive line. The Titans have poured draft picks and free agent money into their offensive line in the last few seasons with little success, so trying to protect franchise QB Marcus Mariota would make sense.
Someone who vehemently disagrees with Bosa's self-assessment is SBNation's own Stephen White, a former NFL defensive end. White says:
Bosa, for me, is a little too robotic and stiff in the hips like a machine (get it?), especially when he is out in space. He's fine as long as he can do everything like he practiced it, probably a gazillion times, but when it's not as clear cut, he isn't as successful. Don't get me wrong, he was a fantastic college football player. His combination of good technique, size and power gave him some distinct advantages over a lot of the guys who tried to block him at that level. Unfortunately for Bosa, once he gets on the next level that will rarely be the case.
White's critique also focuses on Bosa's tendencies to fall down and to have trouble turning the corner to get to the QB inside of eight yards. Both are certainly fair, but White seems to think that Bosa is about as good as he's ever going to be, which seems hard to buy given his relentless commitment to improving his game.
Still, NFL front offices have almost certainly noticed some of the same things that White has. Combine that with Tennessee's more pressing O-line needs, and you have a pretty likely scenario in which Bosa doesn't go first overall. So where else might he end up? San Diego, at No. 3, would love to have Bosa coming off the edge. He could fall to Dallas at No. 4, who now have a pressing need for a pass-rusher after announcing that human trash-heap Greg Hardy will no longer be with the team. Should he slip past Dallas, Bosa could join former teammate Michael Bennett in Jacksonville; it's difficult (and scary) to imagine a world in which he drops further than that, but Baltimore at No. 6, Tampa Bay at No. 9, and the New York Giants at No. 10 all need help at DE.
"Even though his replacement is a capable one...Bosa's value to this defense went beyond the stat sheet."
- Josh Moyer, ESPN.com
A different look at Bosa's value comes from ESPN's Big Ten blog, where this week the writers tried to hammer out which non-quarterback would be most difficult for their team to replace. Unsurprisingly, Bosa's name made the list. The Buckeyes are losing a ridiculous amount of talent, and one could make the case for either No. 97 or Ezekiel Elliott to be piece Urban Meyer will miss the most.
I'd actually argue that Zeke will be an even bigger loss than Bosa when all is said and done. While Sam Hubbard, Bosa's putative replacement, saw significant snaps throughout the 2015 season and showed his pass-rushing credentials time and time again, Ezekiel Elliott was the linchpin of the Buckeye offense over the last two seasons. The rushing group behind him is highly-rated but entirely unproven. Mike Webber and Antonio Williams have tons of talent, but unless one of them can step up to provide the kind of rushing-catching-pass blocking triple threat that Zeke did on a weekly basis, the shape of Ohio State's offense -- and perhaps its quality -- could change dramatically.
Elliott didn't get a vote for ESPN's list this time around. The other players named Penn State DT Austin Johnson and Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge, which, okay, sure. But I think we'll be singing a different tune a few games into 2016 unless Webber or Williams come into the season ready to blow the doors off of college football. The Buckeyes have built a strong tradition of punishing, nimble running backs over the last decade or so: Beanie Wells, Carlos Hyde, and Elliott all seemed to spring from the same football scientist's imagination. The question, then, is what the future will hold for the Buckeye backfield. They're all set at DE -- there's even another Bosa joining the fold.