SI 50, No. 8: DE Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa might not be the surefire top-five talent he’s being made out to be.
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With the 2016 NFL draft just weeks away, it’s time for all 32 teams to get their draft boards in order and rank players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.

The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain their placement in the rankings. As we move through the top 10, each report gets a little more comprehensive. We continue with a prospect who is the best player in this class in some minds, although other evaluators see a few concerns.

• FARRAR: Counting down the top 50 | BURKE: NFL draft team needs

8. Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State
Height: 6' 5" Weight: 269

Bio: After he put up 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a freshman and 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, Joey Bosa came into the 2015 season in the crosshairs of many draft analysts as the best defensive lineman in the 2016 draft class, perhaps the best defensive player at any position and, for some, the best player overall. Then, in a system that was a bit more passive and introduced more mush-rushing and less attacking, Bosa put up just five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2015. He still had a fine season, but people started talking about his ceiling at the next level. Still, as the draft process kicked into high gear, the consensus has been the same: Bosa is a top-five talent, without question.

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He would seem to have everything lined up for that projection, starting with his bloodlines: He’s the son of John Bosa, who played three years in the NFL after the Dolphins took him with the No. 16 pick in 1987 out of Boston College, totaling seven sacks. And there are times when the younger Bosa does look like the best player on the field. He cracked the starting lineup for one of the nation’s top programs as a true freshman and was the Buckeyes’ most impactful defensive player during their national title run two seasons ago. He’s been in the hunt for the Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy and the Hendricks Trophy. Even with his modest 2015 numbers, he was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year by the conference’s coaches. But last season was a trying one for Bosa. He missed the season opener with a suspension for rules violations, and he was ejected from Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame in the first quarter for targeting—a questionable call in many minds, but it marked the end of Bosa’s college career.

Bosa went into the draft process with total belief in his abilities.

“I do believe I’m the best player in the draft,” he said at the combine. “There’s of course a lot of amazing players in the draft and it’s going to be up to Tennessee to make that decision. But I think as a player if you don’t believe that then there’s kind of something wrong.”

After watching Bosa’s tape, it’s a tough call to put him at the top of this class ... or in the top five.

Strengths: Truly scheme-versatile player who could potentially excel as a base 4–3 or 3–4 endbacker with the ability to take snaps as a run-stopping tackle in certain packages. Active hands allow him to pull off blocks and move quickly to stop rushers in their tracks. Will stack-and-shed bigger blockers when he has the snap advantage. Has the athleticism to flare out into coverage in curl/flat responsibility and other short to intermediate schemes. When he beats his blocker off the snap, Bosa wins with body lean and quickness, making him very hard to deal with. As a run defender, deals well with slide protection and pinches inside with authority. Will use his long arms to punch blockers off their feet.

Persistent, scrappy player who will run as long as there’s a quarterback to chase. Brings a solid bull-rush to the field which could be added to with NFL conditioning. Strength really shows up when he gets to a blocker’s shoulder and pushes to the backfield. Has the ability to turn the corner on tackles very quickly and simply blow by them to the quarterback. Wrap tackler who maintains a constant competitive buzz on the field. Only 20 years old with tons of potential for improvement.

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Weaknesses: At times, Bosa will come off the ball too high in his stance without a technique plan and get washed out of the play because of it. At his height, he will either need to focus on leverage or further develop his lower body to contend against the leverage monsters in the NFL. Needs to refine an inside counter to avoid wrestling and losing physical battles to tackles who outweigh him by 20 to 30 pounds. Will come off blocks too late, losing plays he should be able to make. Uses basic rip moves to get past blockers but needs to make this a habit with more power and technique. Needs to be more consistently quick off the snap without drawing offside calls—timing can be an issue. Will overrun plays at times when he gets too amped up. Has speed as a pass rusher around the arc, but doesn’t really bring “dip-and-rip” agility on an every-down basis. Bosa gets his pressures more from straight-line speed and will need to add more dimensions to his edge rush. Did the majority of his damage as a pass rusher against right tackles. Needs to be quicker and more accurate when shooting gaps.

Conclusion: Bosa is a tough evaluation. If you’re looking for a professional edge defender, you may be partial to other players, as I am. Bosa’s true value to the NFL will be his scheme versatility and his enticing combination of run defense and pass rush. There are things he does that don’t show up on the more traditional stat sheets, but he’s regarded very highly among those who watch and chart tons of tape. His would be best utilized in a multi-front defense where he could move around and grow his game accordingly.

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As a pure 4–3 edge rusher, he wouldn’t crack my top 10 overall players, and he’s not my top end in this class. If he's going to play multiple gaps as projected, he’ll probably have to learn some 3–4 concepts he’s never played in before. He’ll have to put some weight on his lower body and learn to split gaps more consistently. Can he do all these things? The tape seems to indicate a great player with the potential to be even better, but it can also show a guy with a fairly low ceiling unless he expands his game. It’s buyer beware for the team selecting him—you’d better be ready to do some work.

Bosa looks like he will have a longer NFL career than his father. He reminds me of another highly-touted end prospect with inconsistent sack production whose versatility and strength against the run have always been underrated.

Pro Comparison: Chris Long, Patriots (first round, Rams, 2008, Virginia)