GREEN BAY, Wis. – Nick Bosa and Yosh Nijman were members of the 2019 NFL Draft class.
Bosa was the No. 2 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Nijman went undrafted and was signed by the Green Bay Packers.
Bosa’s father was a first-round draft pick in 1987. Nijman’s parents were born in Suriname.
Entering Monday night’s game between the 49ers and Packers in Santa Clara, Calif., Bosa had 12 career sacks. Nijman had played in 14 snaps from scrimmage – six end-of-game running plays and eight quarterback kneel-downs.
On paper, it was a colossal mismatch. Bosa was the 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year; Nijman was getting not only his first NFL start but his first real NFL playing time. But Nijman survived a shaky start and was a key reason why the Packers earned a 30-28 victory on Sunday night.
The start of the game brought that on-paper mismatch to life. On the third play of the game – Aaron Rodgers’ 42-yard completion to Allen Lazard – Bosa beat Nijman inside for a pressure. One play later, Bosa batted down a pass. On the next play, Nijman stopped Bosa’s path to Rodgers by grabbing Bosa’s facemask for a 15-yard penalty. On the next play, Bosa beat Nijman to drop Aaron Jones for a 4-yard loss to set up third-and-33.
“I think I was a little bit crazy; my footwork and everything,” Nijman said afterward. “I think I just needed the first drive to get the jitterbugs out. I think later on in the game, I kind of settled down a little bit, got in the flow of it and everything. With that mindset, I was trying to stay cool, calm and collected.”
The NFL’s gamebook is telling. With three tackles, the batted-down pass and the fourth-and-1 pressure to force an end-zone incompletion, Bosa’s name is listed five times in the first half. In the second half, he’s mentioned only once – an assisted tackle on a run in which Jones picked up a first down.
Nijman didn’t do it alone. On the final completion of the game, Rodgers’ 17-yarder to Davante Adams to set up the winning field goal, Jones provided a helping hand – make that a helping shoulder – but Nijman’s play allowed coach Matt LaFleur to mostly run his game plan.
“We gave him some help, because you’ve got to – Bosa’s such a stud. But there were times where he had no help, and I thought he held up real well,” Rodgers said.
For Nijman, his performance was a monument to his hard work and the team’s patience. He toiled away in anonymity on the practice squad as a rookie and barely got on the field aside for blocking on extra points and field goals last season. His growth the past two seasons showed up during a strong preseason in which he faced starting competition.
The team could have taken the veteran approach and lined up with Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly as the tackles. Instead, offensive line coach Adam Stenavich went with the unproven Nijman as the replacement for Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins, who had been the replacement for All-Pro David Bakhtiari.
“We talked earlier this week about, I was talking to Steno, and I said, ‘Who do you want there?’ And he said, ‘Yosh.’” Rodgers said. “(And I said), ‘Yosh? Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ He’s a very soft-spoken, quiet guy, great young kid. And Dave (Bakhtiari) always talks about how good his feet are. He said he’s got the best feet for any lineman. I’m just really proud of the way he battled.”
Nijman was proud, too. Asked what it meant given his path, Nijman leaned back into his chair, seemingly reflecting on it all and perhaps getting a bit emotional.
“It’s just been a journey,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to be diligent in my doing. I just feel like the coaches trusted me. They had confidence in me. I had confidence in myself, so I think that duo, I was able to actually go out and execute. I just knew I had my teammates, my coaches supporting me as I was supporting the team. That’s what it means. It means that’s just the belief factor. Coaches believing in me and believing in this team and just no hiccups. There might be some little things here and there, but we got the job done.”