Nick Bosa came to Columbus with more hype than any other Buckeyes defensive end in recent memory. Sure, his older brother Joey was plenty hyped himself as a four-star recruit, but Nick had to deal with both a five-star distinction and the fact that his brother was the best defensive player on Ohio State’s national championship team.
As it turned out, Nick wouldn’t disappoint. He played immediately and became a vital part of this season’s edition of the rushmen package. Nick didn’t quite put up the same numbers as his brother did as a freshman, but he made plenty of big plays along the way. He recorded sacks against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan on his way to being named a first-team ESPN Freshman All-American.
All the key contributors from the defensive line will return in 2017, but it’s hard to imagine that Bosa won’t find his way onto the field more often. Players often mature quickly between their freshman and sophomore seasons, as they have an entire off-season with elite-level coaching and conditioning. It’s rare that a player of Bosa’s talent could potentially not start, but one look at his freshman year production compared to six of Ohio State’s finest defensive linemen during their first season (denoted by a player recording at least 10 tackles in a season) shows just how special Bosa could be:
Of the six comparables, only Bosa, Johnathan Hankins, Cameron Heyward and Will Smith were able to make a significant impact as a true freshman. While Nick is behind Joey in all three categories, he’s actually ahead of the average stat-line produced by this star-studded pack. Nick’s five sacks are particularly encouraging, as they’re two more than any of the comparables that have a different Mom and Dad than he does.
If we took the average increase of production from this player group and applied it to Nick, we would expect him to record 50 tackles, 12 TFLs and eight sacks as a sophomore. Obviously it’s a tough to assume Nick will follow in the footsteps as six top-three round NFL draft picks, but his ability to both impact the run game and rush the passer makes him a rare specimen who will find a way to wreck havoc this fall.
“Obviously he's a guy that, the last name, high expectations. I think he's starting to fulfill them.” - Urban Meyer
Meyer was referring to Bosa’s performance during the Buckeyes’ win over Indiana. He’d played well against Bowling Green, Oklahoma and Rutgers, but he truly started making some impact plays against new-Buckeye Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson’s offense.
With a quick first step and the type of hand power that can prove to be very destructive, Bosa is very tough to run the ball away from. He has a constant motor and is always willing to chase down plays to the other side of the field. Bosa proved against Indiana that failing to account for him in the run game is a fool’s task:
While it may seem strange, some of the nation’s top-defensive players are at their worst when team’s run the ball directly at them. Sometimes player’s reliance on speed and quickness enables them to thrive as they run down plays from the weak side, but they struggle when teams play physical football and force the player to stand up to direct blocking.
Bosa’s contributions this season varied, but he was always on the field for obvious third-down passes, as well as tough short-yardage runs. Essentially a “3 and D” defensive lineman, Bosa proved against Indiana that he is more than capable of holding his own at the point of attack:
The ability to simply drive a linemen straight back into the opponent’s backfield is invaluable. Bosa’s ability use his brute strength is only possible thanks to his great technique, as he consistently gets his hands inside of his opponent and is always driving his feet.
“I didn’t really listen to the hype too much...Coach J made it really easy for me to transition. He knew that there was going to be some pressure, but I just worked with him and kept getting better and my teammates helped me get acclimated.” - Nick Bosa
Part of what made Joey Bosa so good was his ability to impact games from both defensive tackle and defensive end. Ohio State’s third-best pass rusher in 2015 was Sam Hubbard, so Bosa’s ability to bump inside to defensive tackle enabled the Buckeyes to debut their rushmen package and really get after the quarterback.
It didn’t take long for the Buckeyes to display a similar strategy with Nick:
Bosa once again displays great technique, as he is able to work his hands free and rip past the guard into the quarterback. He has the ability to bull rush offensive lineman straight back when necessary, but deploying moves like he did in the above video is what makes him such a versatile and disruptive pass rusher.
At 6’4 260 lbs, Bosa is a defensive end who can play defensive tackle, not the other way around. His strength enables him to produce against the interior of an offensive line, but the same strength allows him to dominate against overmatched tackles and tight ends on the outside. Like his brother, Bosa doesn’t necessarily have the type of elite bend that will make scouts gush, but he makes up for it with his technique and more than enough quickness to give plenty of offensive tackles fits:
Keep in mind that Ohio State hasn’t blitzed in any of the above videos. The Buckeyes secondary members may get all the press, but the Ohio State defense line’s ability to generate pressure with just three or four rushers is what made last year’s defense so special. Offenses can only keep so many players in to block, so what happens when all four defensive lineman are good enough to demand double teams on every play? Of course not every Ohio State player demands the same level of attention, but Nick Bosa is one of them.
For Bosa to start next season will require either reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Tyquan Lewis or Sam Hubbard to sit. The coaches could decide to move Bosa to defensive tackle in place of Michael Hill or Tracy Sprinkle, but it really doesn’t matter if he eventually snags a starting position or not. Now a more than a full season removed from tearing his ACL as a high school senior, Nick Bosa has the ability and opportunity to take games over as a Sophomore. Don’t expect him to give the coaches much of a reason to take plays off.