One of the more common requests I get on Twitter is people asking me to compare the top prospect at a position in the current class to several from the few previous classes. As an evaluator, this is something I consistently think through as well, checking myself on grades and what I want to change in my evaluations moving from one year to the next, from one prospect to the next.
So I decided to crank out some articles on the topic, at least for position groups with a clear and established top player. In the 2019 edge defender crop, Nick Bosa is clearly that player.
So how does Bosa compare to elite level prospects at his position coming out of college over the past few years? Let's take a look.
In addition to Nick, the players we will be looking at are Joey Bosa, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Myles Garrett. I don't feel like Bradley Chubb was generally considered on the same level as a prospect as these guys, so I've kept him out for brevity's sake. All the numbers we pull will be from MockDraftable.com, one of the best sites on the internet.
How is a player listed almost 6-foot-4, 270 pounds with tree limbs for arms in Nick Bosa maybe the third-most physically imposing player in this group? Because we're dealing with five absolute freaks in the physical tools department.
Garrett has to be no. 1 here. Absolutely shredded 6-foot-4, 272 pounds with over 35-inch arms and hands over 10 inches. Dude is massive and stacked with muscle.
After that, both Bosas and Clowney probably contend in different ways. The Bosas have more developed physiques where Clowney had some work to do on his body out of college, but the latter's arm length was a massive weapon. Also, we have to see exactly how Nick measures in, but being a couple inches shorter than Joey (as he's currently listed) could end up being an advantage, exposing less surface area around the top of the arc.
It feels ridiculous to rank Mack last here considering his rocked up build, but he didn't have the same length and overall size that the other guys had, not that it has mattered one bit for him in the NFL.
2. J. Bosa
3. N. Bosa
The three athletic testing marks that matter the most for edge evaluation are jumps, 3-cone and 10-yard split.
Garrett never did the 3-cone, but his jumps were in the 98th (vertical) and 96th (broad) percentiles for his position group, despite being heavier than the average edge defender. A 1.63 10-yard split was also extraordinary at his size, a number that he improved to 1.57 at his pro day.
Clowney, just six pounds lighter kicked off his jaw-dropping 4.53 40 with a 1.56 10-yard split, which experts today refer to as a scientific impossibility. Where Clowney gets dinged is his agility drills, as his 3-cone (and short shuttle) result came in below average for the position.
Mack's whole Combine was jaw-dropping, as he ran the same 10-yard split as Clowney (albeit 15 pounds lighter) and jumped almost identical numbers to Garrett. His 3-cone was in the 72nd percentile for the position, and his shuttle in the 91st.
For some reason, Joey Bosa's Combine is thought of with a negative connotation, I guess because he didn't run a great 40? At 269 pounds, Bosa's 1.68 10-yard certainly wasn't anything to get excited about, but his 6.89 3-cone was one of the more amazing results we've seen at the Combine for an edge defender, especially considering Bosa's size.
If I had to guess, I'd say Nick will be right in the middle of this pack. I don't think he's quite on Garrett/Mack level as an athlete, but I think he'll have better agilities than Clowney and a better 10-yard than Joey, although he's not touching Clowney's 40, or 10 probably. Nobody is.
My rank for the group athletically (all transcendent athletes), based on these results and watching their tape.
3. N. Bosa
4. J. Bosa
Garrett: 34 games, 31 sacks, 47 TFL
Mack: 48 games, 28.5 sacks, 74.5 TFL (!!!)
Clowney: 36 games, 24 sacks, 47 TFL
J. Bosa: 38 games, 26 sacks, 51 TFL
N. Bosa: 29 games, 17.5 sacks, 29 TFL
It's important to remember that until this season, which lasted only three games for Nick, he played in a decent rotation simply due to Ohio State's absurd depth at the position, so his snap counts probably aren't where the others are. Also, his per-game production is still pretty insane, which is really the way to look at this.
The biggest thing Nick is missing that the others aren't is playing time and experience. I'm a big believe that the more you play, the better chance you have at improving your skill set, especially from the neck up. It also suggests he may not be at his ceiling yet, which is pretty exciting considering how good he already is.
The Clowney category, although Mack is impressive in this area as well. If there is one place Clowney sets himself apart, it is in being unbelievably explosive off-the-ball. He, Mack and Garrett have all boasted a brilliant first step as part of their repertoire since college, while Joey Bosa has had to develop the rest of his game to compensate for this, his one weakness.
Bosa isn't slow off the ball, he just simply isn't as explosive out of the gate as his other elite colleagues, which has forced him to become an incredibly creative pass rusher. Nick might be a tad more explosive, but I do think it'll be his biggest weakness as well, although it's probably still a relative strength compared to the rest of the NFL.
4. N. Bosa
5. J. Bosa
Garrett's ability to drop his pads and bend under contact at the top of the arc at almost 6-foot-5, 273 pounds is one of the craziest traits I've ever scouted as a draft analyst. Mack corners just fine, but he tends to rely more on power and rush moves that pure speed/bend like Garrett.
I'll be honest, I cannot find any distinguishable difference between Nick and Joey's college tape in this category. Both guys are more ankle benders/edge tilters than run-under-a-table-at-full-speed types, but it's difficult to tell which one is more impressive in terms of traits. Nick seemed to rely on it a bit more, but Joey's flashes were on par with his brother's.
This is Clowney's big area of weakness, and the biggest reason why he's never had a double-digit sack season. Guys who can't bend or consistently win along the outside edge track are limited in the primary area NFL edge rushers are successful. It's why I would have taken Mack before Clowney back in 2014, and would obviously do the same today.
3. N. Bosa
4. J. Bosa
Pass Rush Moves
In a close race, I'd say Mack had the best arsenal coming out of college while Joey Bosa was a little better with his hands. You could pick either of them for this spot and I'd be fine with it. Both were highly nuanced and devastatingly efficient in their array of pass rush moves.
I'd put Nick Bosa third on this list, although he's close to the company of the first two. Garrett needed work in this area, but was still impressive, while Clowney was pretty raw in his pass rush plan coming out of college.
2. J. Bosa
3. N. Bosa
I haven't seen anybody out of college that strung moves together and adapted their pass rush plan mid-rep like Joey Bosa. His ability to diagnose pass sets and attack the biggest deficiency he saw is part of what makes him truly awesome as a player. Inside moves and counters have become vital to his success in the NFL.
Mack was a standout in this area as well, while Nick Bosa looked like he was taking a big step forward in his counters before his injury this season. I think we'll see Nick tested in this way more in the NFL, as his initial move wasn't stopped enough in college to really have to use many counters.
Garrett and Clowney had flashes, but there were a little more raw out of college than their peers.
1. J. Bosa
3. N. Bosa
This area isn't really fair to Garrett, who I thought was an excellent run defender, but is probably 4th or 5th on this list. Mack and Joey Bosa were outstanding all-around players that rarely made a mistake or weren't technically elite as run defenders, while Clowney was as disruptive as any defensive player in college football while at South Carolina. Any of those three can be selected and be the right answer.
Mack is my top choice followed by Bosa, simply because they had better range and were less stiff in space. Clowney is a borderline elite NFL run defender and deserves to be considered as such.
Nick Bosa was much improved early this season as a run defender, while Garrett was unfairly criticized as being poor in this area. I don't think this was a concern for any of the five prospects out of college.
2. J. Bosa
5. N. Bosa
Coming out of college, both Clowney and Garrett were questioned in this area, the former due to some effort/work ethic concerns that appeared legit at the time, the latter because people had to make up something to dislike about him because admitting he was Superman was difficult for them.
Both have proven to be extremely tough and competitive in the NFL, while Mack and the Bosas were always thought of as dogs. I can't even rank the five in this category because all of them deserve commendation for their competitive toughness.
From college tape and now countless hours of NFL study, it is clear to me that Garrett is the best all-around prospect out of the group, while Mack is currently the best player and Joey Bosa was arguably the most polished and pro-ready. Clowney is a very good player who isn't on the same tier as his colleagues, but still will probably be paid as one of the top defenders in the NFL this offseason.
Nick Bosa has better tape and traits than Clowney, and I think he'll test better in the 3-cone, a very important exercise for edges that denotes bend and flexibility to corner. Will he ever be on Mack's level as a technician or Garrett's as an athletic freak? The former is more attainable than the latter.
Worst case scenario for Nick is that he ends up as a comparable player to his brother, a top 7-10 edge defender in the NFL currently. I think Joey is a little more polished as a pass rusher, but Nick may be the more explosive and flexible athlete, which could give him a slightly higher ceiling.
In that case, reaching Mack's level, a top 3-5 edge defender in the NFL every single season, might just be in the cards for Nick. We'll need his athletic testing results to finish Nick's projection, but evaluating these five purely as prospects coming out of college, this is how I see the group stacking up:
3. N. Bosa
4. J. Bosa