Coming out of high school in 2016, Nick Bosa was ranked the 8th-best player in the country, behind other defensive linemen like Rashan Gary (#1), Dexter Lawrence (#2), and Ed Oliver (#6). Statistically speaking, nobody has been as productive as Oliver, but Nick Bosa has done incredibly well for himself and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Through two years in Columbus, Bosa has 23 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He’s played alongside some really talented players, too, including Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, and Tyquan Lewis, who were all drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. But, to be honest, Bosa has higher upside than any of them, and he’s got the chance to shine this year. With 49 combined games played, expectations are high for Bosa and linemate Dre’Mont Jones this year.
As for Bosa, the expectations are higher than any defensive lineman in the country. Walking around campus in his own shoes, he still lives in the shadows of his brother. If you didn’t know, his brother, Joey Bosa, was exceptional for the Ohio State Buckeyes. From 2013 to 2015, he had 51 tackles for loss and 26 sacks and was considered the top defensive lineman in the 2016 NFL Draft class. Fast forward to the 2018 college football season and the 2019 NFL Draft, and Nick will be vying for that same spot. Will he beat out the likes of Rashan Gary and Ed Oliver as the top defensive lineman? Only time will tell, but let’s take a look at what he brings to the table and why he no longer needs to live in the shadows of his brother.
Pass Rush Hand Usage
When watching a defensive lineman rush the passer, the first thing you look for is their hand usage. As a former high school defensive line coach, I would always tell my players that if they weren’t working their hands, they weren’t working hard enough. From the high school level to the NFL, active hands always matter.
The top of the screen, you’ll notice Bosa (#97) rushing the quarterback. On his rush, you’ll see how he keeps his outside shoulder free. That’s so important in a pass rush situation. If you don’t take “half-the-man” or “half-man”, then you are fully exposing your chest plate to the offensive tackle. It makes his job easier, and as a pass rusher, you never want to do that.
Bursting out of his stance, he gives a quick stutter step before working the outside shoulder of the right tackle. While he works his outside hand, he’s constantly moving that hand in a clubbing motion to prevent the offensive tackle maintaining any type of grip. Furthermore, he drops his inside shoulder, which forces the offensive tackle to re-apply his punch, and that gives him enough time to get his inside hand on the quarterback.
Hand usage is everything. Watching Nick Bosa, you can clearly tell he comes to the table with a plan and understands how to work his hands. On the play below, you’ll notice how he leaves that outside shoulder free but perfectly times his hands.
As he comes out of his stance, he attempts the stutter step with his inside foot. Meanwhile, he stays the course on the outside shoulder of the left tackle. He swipes both of the offensive tackle’s hands, drops his shoulder and gets into the pocket. While going for the quarterback, he notices the football and strips it out of the quarterback’s hand. Being able to rush the quarterback and create turnovers while doing so is a huge plus.
With good hand usage, it’s important to have good timing, as well. Bosa clearly understands the time it takes to get after the quarterback. With every single rush, you can see the clock in his head ticking. The time execution with his hands helps make him such a threat off the edge.
Stopping the Run
Rushing the passer is important, but it’s not everything. To make sure you’re on the field for every play, you have to know how to stop the run, too. Nick Bosa does, and that’s why he was on the field for 526 defensive snaps this past season, behind only Tyquan Lewis (534 snaps), Sam Hubbard (531 snaps) and Jalyn Holmes (527 snaps). All three of those players were drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, so that opens the door for Bosa to be on the field even more this year. For the Buckeyes, that’s a good thing but for the opposition, not so much.
On the following play, the Buckeyes’ defense run blitz during a 2nd-and-5 situation. The defensive tackle (Jashon Cornell #9) and Nick Bosa (#97) are slanting hard inside. Meanwhile, the WILL linebacker (behind Bosa, a.k.a Jerome Baker #17) is blitzing off the edge and the safety (Jordan Fuller #4) replaces the linebacker.
One of the biggest things that defensive line coaches want you to do is to have proper technique at the line of scrimmage (LOS), especially when the opposing team is running the football. When a defensive end gets to the heels of the offensive line, it’s important for him to keep his head on a swivel. Watching Bosa against Maryland, he does just that. There’s a pulling guard looking to kick him out, but Bosa “wrong arms” (rips with his inside shoulder of the offensive lineman) the guard and gets inside to stop the play.
Bosa notices the down block from the offensive tackle and gets into the tackle’s hip pocket by slanting hard inside. When he does that, it makes getting to the heels of the offensive line much easier, but it also puts him in a better position to make the play. Beyond that, he notices the right guard pulling and knows that the guard is trying to kick him out of the play. With the “wrong arm” technique, Bosa gets inside and opens the door to stopping the run.
One key area to focus on with this play is how Bosa doesn’t stop his feet. After ripping through the guard, he keeps his feet moving. This only helps with his positioning, and ultimately, this leads to him making the tackle on the play.
For defensive linemen, there are plenty of blocks that you have to decipher when attacking the opposition, whether it’s just a down block, reach block, or even a trap block. From recognizing the blocks to getting a feel for them, a lineman has to be ready for anything and everything. On the next play, Bosa handles himself perfectly against this reach block attempt from USC. They come out in 11 personnel and attempt an inside zone play.
The center and right tackle release up to the linebackers. As they do so, everyone else on the offensive line steps hard to their right and reach blocks. Bosa is a C-gap player (outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), so he can’t let the tight end reach block him. Once the tight end crosses his face, he punches with his left hand into the tight end’s shoulder. By fighting pressure with pressure and keeping his feet moving, he gets into perfect position to stop the original running lane. This forces the running back to cut back, and even though Bosa misses the tackle, he plays this reach block incredibly well.
Hump Move, Explosiveness, and Swim Move
Not every defensive lineman can give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. Even though I’m just getting started on the 2019 NFL Draft class, the only two who come close are Ed Oliver and Nick Bosa. These are two explosive players who are technically sound.
When we talk about exploding off the ball, Nick Bosa instantly comes to mind. He’s aligned in a wide-9 technique and beats the tight end (Daniel Imatorbhebhe #88) before he’s even out of his stance. The tight end steps inside with his post-step (inside foot), and Bosa instantly creates separation. While the running back (Ronald Jones #25) attempts to chip block the edge, Bosa drops his shoulder and gets underneath.
This gives him a clear path to the quarterback, and in this case, he takes Sam Darnold to the ground for the sack. Most edge rushers would reroute themselves on their path to the quarterback, but Bosa trusts his technique and explosiveness and knows how to play below pad level.
You wouldn’t think there’s a lot of power behind Nick Bosa, but don’t be surprised when he throws his weight around. Against Oklahoma, the center (Erick Wren #58) pulls as the left guard and left tackle double team the nose tackle. This RPO (run pass option) concept is executed for Baker Mayfield to throw a “pop” pass. The center pulls to make it look like a potential run, and Baker fakes the handoff to the running back. This influences the linebackers to fill and try to stop the run.
Bosa notices the fake right away, and he makes his way to the quarterback with a “hump” move. He powers his inside hand underneath the inside shoulder of the center. Once doing so, he simply lifts up and pushes the center to the ground. The key to this is playing below pad level and keeping your eyes on the quarterback. Bosa has no problems executing this.
Lastly, Bosa can easily execute the swim move. On the following play, he’s aligned in a 5-technique and initially starts in the C-gap, but he changes his course with a hitch, or stutter step, inside the offensive tackle. He reroutes himself to the B-gap by driving his inside foot beyond the outside foot of the offensive tackle. Throughout the process, he pulls down the jersey of the offensive tackle with his inside hand. By doing so, he forces the offensive tackle on his toes, and this allows him to swim over with his outside shoulder and put some pressure on the quarterback.
The pocket mobility from Sam Darnold allows him to escape the pressure. However, it’s clear that Bosa generated this pressure with the swim move and that he can do this on a consistent basis.
I have become a huge fan of Nick Bosa. With three of the defensive ends from last year’s team in the NFL, the door has opened for him to be everything for this Ohio State defense.
From being able to run a variety of line stunts to switching up his technique on every play, Bosa is an incredible prospect. He’s superb at doing the little things right. As the old saying goes, “the little things are the big things.” It holds true for Bosa, as last year, he won Big Ten Conference Smith-Brown defensive lineman of the year award. He was also an American Football Coaches Association first-team All-American.
Being able to play with great technique on a consistent basis won’t only load the stat sheet, but it will also help Bosa solidify himself as the best defensive end in the 2019 NFL Draft. Many have considered him to be in his brother’s shadow at Ohio State, but his 2017 season should already have you reconsidering. Don’t be surprised when Nick Bosa takes college football by storm this season.