Joey Bosa Will Be Good for San Diego, But Not Great
Comparisons of NFL prospects to superstar players are often thrown around far too easily.
Take the case of defensive lineman Joey Bosa, out of Ohio State. He was being called a "generational talent" almost before he put an NCAA helmet on, and compared to players such as Houston Texans defensive end -- and actual generational talent -- J.J. Watt:
Joey Bosa looks a lot like JJ Watt and he's a true freshman. Wow
— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) December 8, 2013
And, then, there's this:
Thor's body, Incredible Hulk's tenacity. RT @SheaBurke21: Joey Bosa's NFL comparison?
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 9, 2014
For what it's worth, I'd actually believe the latter scouting report more.
All joking aside, Bosa is not a bad player, but he is the victim of the NFL Draft hype train rolling through our collective consciousness once again. He's shown in college that he can be a high-ceilinged defender at times, having racked up 148 tackles (51 for a loss) over the past three seasons. Still, this potentially-dominant force is completely washed out of plays at points on film, due to a lack of focus or refinement in his play. Far too often in the 2014 BCS Championship, for instance, we see Bosa get tied up in one-on-one battles with offensive linemen and not be able to use his raw physical strength to outmuscle them. He vacated run lanes easily and allowed the Oregon running backs to waltz all over his side of the line on rushing plays.
As a pure pass-rusher, though, he's a premium player. Bosa's 26 career sacks in three years (8.67 per year) are only rivaled in recent memory by Damontre Moore's 26.5 in three years (8.83) at Texas A&M. Despite leaving a year early for the NFL, Bosa's collegiate sack total was the seventh-highest since 2010, according to Pro Football Reference.
We recently discussed why athleticism is important for defensive linemen in the NFL, and Bosa's NFL Combine numbers can be found in his Mock Draftable spider-charts. The numbers correspond to the percentile his performance in each drill or metric ranks in, and both his comparisons to other defensive ends and outside linebackers are below.
Side by side, we can see that Bosa would make for a shifty, but non-explosive defensive end (90th percentile or higher in 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle; 45th or lower in 10-yard dash and vertical jump), indicating that he might be best as a power-rushing strong-side defensive end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme -- exactly what he played in college.
That said, anyone hoping to make him an outside linebacker will be disappointed by his severe limitations in explosiveness (23rd or lower in 10-yard dash and vertical jump) and diminished comparative agility scores (84th and 70th in 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle, respectively).
All in all, Bosa's high ceiling should ensure that he goes early on Draft Day. He can play essentially anywhere on the defensive line, depending on how he adapts his body weight and play style, but his body is not suited for his play style. This makes him a conundrum for both NFL and Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy football purposes. Premium pass-rushers come at a hefty cost in the league, no matter the position, but the team selecting him needs to know that he still must be coached up to be a great, well-rounded player.
Until then, I'll keep my superhuman comparisons more cautiously optimistic.
The San Diego Chargers better hope that Bosa is a bankable asset for them in their 3-4 defense, but with a middling pass rush already, they clearly were looking to add another piece to push them over the edge. According to our numberFire Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, the Chargers generated the 14th most Sack Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back on defense, and if there's one thing Bosa can do, it's generate pressure. The Chargers did rank 31st in schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play in 2015, however, and that is the place that Bosa struggles the most with his hand in the dirt. If he plays off-line as a linebacker, he may have more time to read and react than he did at Ohio State.
The big question for his future is whether the Chargers will use Bosa in a 3-4 defensive end spot -- where he will have to bulk up in order to hold the line against run blocking better -- or at the 3-4 outside linebacker spot. If he works out of the defensive line, he will be a major fantasy asset due to his big-play generating ability. The outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 leads to some pretty poor production for IDP fantasy players.
The question of Joey Bosa's draft value has finally been answered, but many more questions now abound about the potential savior of the Chargers' defensive hopes.