SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Column: Nick Bosa should be in the MVP conversation

Dec 30, 2022, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:48 am

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on after a win against the Washington Commanders at ...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on after a win against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The AP NFL Most Valuable Player award has been handed out at the end of each season since 1957. Cleveland Browns’ great Jim Brown was the first player to ever receive the award and accomplished that feat three times in eight seasons.

Since then, the award has been mostly handed out to quarterbacks, dominating the majority of the votes each season. What’s more surprising is that only 18 non-QBs have won the biggest individual award in football. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was the last to do it in 2012.

Scan the archives even further and you’ll find that only two defensive players have won the award: Outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor and defensive tackle Alan Page. The former won it most recently in 1986 as a member of the New York Football Giants. That season Taylor notched a career-high 20.5 sacks, 105 total tackles, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 16 games played.

Not many have come close to that stat line since and maybe never will (105 tackles is absurd for a pass rusher).

Regardless, the award is based on merit, with a common question being: How important is said player to the success of our team? And if we’re going off that, look no further than defensive end Nick Bosa, leading the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense of 2022.

Bosa has been a man amongst boys this year, already breaking his previous single-season sack record of 15.5. Through 16 weeks, the former Ohio State Buckeye has amassed a league-leading 17.5 sacks, 48 total tackles, 18 TFLs and 42 QB hits. Throw in one pass defended and two forced fumbles, you get a defensive lineman that is playing the best football of his young NFL career.

“Extremely disruptive, because it’s every play,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Bosa Wednesday. “It’s not just pass plays, it’s not just third down, it’s run plays, it’s every situation. He’s always got a chance to make a play and he’s gotten really good at moving around and I think he’s just as good of a rusher wherever he goes, which makes it really hard for offenses to set a plan when you don’t know where he is going to be.”

The scary part: Bosa has missed a game and a half this season due to a groin injury suffered in Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers. Who knows what his stats would look like if he stayed injury-free in 2022, as the 49ers feel like he is only scratching the surface of his true potential at 25 years young.

“Yes, definitely. He’s still young. He’s not perfect,” Shanahan added with chuckle. “He’s got four personal fouls this year. I told him that’s why his Madden awareness rating is a 99, not a hundred, so yeah, he could get better right there, but he’s playing the top of his game.”

Nick Bosa has been playing so well down the stretch run that his teammates (and much of the national media) have hailed him as the runaway Defensive Player of the Year already. And his coaches feel the same way, joking that they could sit Bosa the final two games of the regular season and still win the award.

“I feel like we could sit him these next two weeks and my mind would be blown if he wasn’t the defensive MVP, so he’s been great. It’s been his goal probably since he could remember making goals and I know that was a big thing to him this year, how excited he was coming into camp healthy for one of the first times and him just saying how much more he wanted to do because he was healthy and he’s so smart about that stuff, but he was able to get in more practice, build a little bit more stamina for the whole year and it’s showed up on the field because I think he’s a lot better now than he was two months ago and he was better then then he was in the beginning of the year,” Shanahan stated.

“It’s really important for Nick to be the best football player that he can be,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said Thursday. “He’s 24/7 of being the best that you can absolutely be and that’s who Nick is, day-in and day out. And everyone gets to see that on Sundays but that’s him all throughout the week. And it’s really cool to watch because his process and who he is, it doesn’t change. And we’re so proud of what he’s done for us and what he means to our team, our defense. He’s truly an MVP-caliber player.”

When San Francisco drafted Nick Bosa with the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, they knew he could be a game-wrecker at his peak. But what they didn’t expect, players included, was that he would be bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else on the defensive line in the NFL.

Now in year four, the 25-year-old has made it abundantly clear that he’s a force to be reckoned with, turning into the match that ignites the 49ers’ team as a whole.

“I mean, he’s better than everybody else,” tight end George Kittle said after Week 16. “He’s a better athlete. And stronger and faster. He’s so smart. Is is the news that he does. He’s so creative…And when Bosa gets a sack it just kind of ignites the entire team too, you can feel it the stadium too. I don’t know if our team was kind of flat. It felt like it in the beginning of the game, but once Bosa got one [sack], it just felt like a waterfall just came through and the whole team had this energy to us and everyone’s just going with it. He’s really the key. [Linebacker] Fred Warner is fantastic, our defense is playing at a high level, but when you have the game plan for Nick Bosa it just allows all those guys to be so much better.”

Bosa did just that on Christmas Eve against the Washington Commanders, finishing Week 16 with two sacks, seven tackles, four QB hits, and a third-quarter forced fumble that swung the game in the 49ers’ direction. It may be one thing when your defense sings your praises, but for a Pro Bowl offensive player like Kittle to bow down to Bosa’s greatness, that’s a whole new level of talent.

“I think today secured his defensive MVP. I don’t know how it doesn’t. If you look at what he does every Sunday compared to everyone else around the league whether it’s offense or defense, I don’t know why he’s not in the MVP conversation,” Kittle proclaimed.

The final mark of a true MVP-caliber player is if he makes everyone else around him better. We know he does on the defensive side of the ball, but his impact and preparation have trickled down to every nook and cranny of the Red & Gold’s infrastructure.

The biggest example: Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy.

Mr. Irreverent has had his own remarkable journey in the last month of the regular season, going 3-0 in the first starts of his NFL career. While his play can be credited to him mainly, the old saying “iron sharpens iron” comes to mind here.

Practicing on the scout team for most of the season, Purdy faced Nick Bosa and the 49ers’ first-team defense since training camp began in August. Now thrust into the starting role due to injuries, the 23-year-old Arizona native has thrived under center for San Francisco. A result, he believes, is thanks to playing the best defensive player in football every week at practice.

“Honestly it was frustrating at times, just like dropping back and seeing Nick right in my face and having to make a move almost every play,” Purdy explained postgame Saturday. “But honestly, it did help, like in terms of keeping my eyes down the field, there’s a pass rush coming, there’s guys swiping for the ball, you know, Nick is breathing down my neck almost every play. So, it definitely did help. It helped with my pocket presence and awareness and things like that.”

As for Bosa himself, the Florida native is just happy to be in the running for DPOY, an award he’s been dreaming of since he could remember. And with only two sacks between him and the franchise’s single-season record of 19.5 (Aldon Smith), the former Buckeye could be at the forefront of Bay Area history after Week 18.

“That’s a dream. I’ve played this game since I was seven and played D-line the entire way through and I’ve watched guys throughout the years and wanted to be in that position. I finally feel I’m living out that dream,” Nick Bosa said with his usual modest tone.

Cambridge Dictionary defines the term “MVP” as such: “An award given to a sports player who is judged most important to the sport, team, or game.”

None fit the description better than the 25-year-old pass rusher from Fort Lauderdale. It’s why fellow DL Arik Armstead corrected me Thursday when I said Bosa is probably the DPOY (that story is coming next week).

Bosa is in a league of his own. That’s why he should be considered for MVP in 2022.

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