Image Credit: ESPN
Everyone has at least one form of kryptonite, and one of mine is a 10th-grade geometry proof. These cursed problems are born in the frozen depths of hell, haunting my dreams to this day and driving me into the depths of sorrow and madness.
The real-world use of the proof was learning “the given,” and it was usually the only part of the problem I’d get right.
Early in the evening of April 25, 2019, the San Francisco 49ers correctly solved the given.
With over 300 possible choices to take with the second overall pick, the 49ers selected defensive end Nick Bosa from the Ohio State University. Bosa was one of the best athletes in the draft and was an undeniable talent and roster need for the 49ers.
Today, the 49ers get an “A” for taking Bosa but don’t revel in that high mark for much longer.
Any team can solve the given one night and look like a collective of brain matter that puts the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to shame.
Tomorrow and for each day that follows, the grades that matter are about what the 49ers and Bosa can achieve over the next several seasons.
Here are a few gradable benchmarks everyone must meet over the next year.
Saleh’s Defensive Scheme and Execution
Last season, the 49ers’ defense suffered from a severe split personality disorder. At times the players looked lost and fundamentally broken. The next week, the defense would execute each call with the precision of a highly-paid neurosurgeon.
Some of these defensive tales of woe fall on the shoulders of the players and others on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Each Sunday brought feelings of frustration and skepticism about Saleh’s ability to craft, teach and call his defense.
Indeed, the 2018 defensive roster was short on talent at the edge position and an injury list that resembled a Civil War after-action report.
Saleh was hesitant with his front seven, calling bland blitzes, rushing four men time and time again, or dropping defensive linemen into coverage.
Once Bosa signs his contract, Saleh will have two capable defensive ends in his defensive meeting room, along with two outstanding inside linebackers, Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner.
Both defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are coming off quality seasons, and now have the added bonus of more edge pressure.
It’s a make-or-break moment for Saleh in his development of Bosa and creating a defense that strikes fear in the hearts of the opposition.
Shanahan Using Thomas Properly
After selecting Bosa, Lynch and Shanahan held a press conference focused on the draft and the newest 49er.
Near the beginning of the question and answers, a reporter asked Shanahan about how former linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive lineman Justin Smith complemented each other and asked if Bosa and Ford would be similar.
Shanahan noted that it “gets confusing to people how we use them [defensive linemen] and where to use them best, and I think this makes it a lot easier.”
He went on to state that some of the defensive linemen had the versatility and that Solomon Thomas can rush outside, but “they’re best at rushing the passer from the inside.”
Finally, he noted the addition of Bosa and Ford “…allows you to use the versatility a little bit better and put guys truly where they’re at their best.”
I’ve written extensively about the misuse of Thomas as an edge defender. He’s an athlete and can play the edge if needed, but it’s not his best position.
The Solomon Thomas Edge Experiment grades out at a D-plus at best. It’s time for Shanahan to put his foot down and tell Saleh that Thomas should never align wider than a 3-technique.
The 49ers now have two players who have been spliced together from mastodon and wolverine DNA to play defensive end, leaving little excuse for Thomas to be in a wide-9 technique.
However, if Thomas continues to play more edge than inside, then it’s time to take a hard look and grade how Shanahan is using his talent.
The Win-Loss Record
There are millions of elements, both large and small, that determine the outcome of a football season. Many are uncontrollable by humans and are left to whatever deity you find fitting or Infinity Stone you seek.
I have to assume, at least for the purposes of an April commentary, that the 49ers will avoid significant injuries to key players this year. On paper, the 49ers have upgraded the defense to bring more pressure from the edges, and with it, more turnovers and sacks. If all players on offense remain healthy, there is no reason for the 49ers to have a record below .500.
The 2019 49ers are built in Shanahan’s image and theory – including a weak interior offensive line – and are run as he sees fit. He and Lynch have made three years of decisions to build the current roster, and it’s now time for him to showcase what he can do as a coach.
Overall for Bosa
Next week, Bosa’s initial draft grade will be equal to the empty beer can on your coffee table. But, I must warn you True Believer: do not judge Bosa after three games and declare him a bust or the savior.
Draft picks need to be graded two or three years after selection, and after considering his impacts on and off the field, his leadership, and what improvements he brought to the defense.
We’re a long time from that moment.
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