The 49ers had long been searching for a premier pass rusher since releasing former All-Pro Aldon Smith before the 2015 season.
They might have landed their man with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday, tapping Ohio State star defensive end Nick Bosa to further bolster their front seven.
The decision was hardly a surprise. General manager John Lynch and personnel executive Adam Peters met extensively with Bosa before the draft, at the scouting combine and his pro day in Columbus, Ohio. Bosa also went to the club’s facilities this month for an official visit. He’ll join former Chiefs Pro Bowler Dee Ford as new additions on the defensive line brought in to harass quarterbacks.
Bosa, 21, was widely regarded as the top overall prospect in this year’s class — a status he’s enjoyed for most of the last calendar year. He was available to San Francisco because the Arizona Cardinals took Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 selection.
Bosa’s brother, Joey, was the No. 3 pick of the Chargers in the 2016 draft. He logged 28.5 sacks in his first 35 games and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Rear with 10.5 sacks despite appearing in just 12 contests. Nick is considered a near identical prospect to Joey.
But Nick Bosa’s selection doesn’t come without red flags. There are questions about his durability. He missed the final 11 games last season at Ohio State due to surgery to repair a core muscle injury. He also dealt with a partially torn ACL that ended his high school career in 2015.
There have also been reports of Bosa “liking” racists posts on social media. He recently admitted to scrubbing his Twitter feed of controversial posts, including calling former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick “a clown” for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination and police brutality.
The 49ers don’t appear concerned with Bosa’s social media habits or social views. Bosa wouldn’t be the first conservative in San Francisco’s locker room, nor would he be the team’s first high-profile player with conservative viewpoints.
“I would tell you that we look at everything,” Lynch said. “I think we try to be as thorough in the process as we can. That is something we look at, but we also look at what kind of teammate is he. What do his teammates think about him?
“In particular, when you’re talking about guys who are going to go that high (in the draft), you’ve vetted these guys in every way. You try to look at things like that. What kind of member of your organization would this guy be, in every respect? You look at it all, and we’ve done that with all the prospects that we might be considering at that spot.”
Bosa appeared in 29 games over three seasons for the Buckeyes, totaling 17.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He was a first-team All-American following his true sophomore campaign in 2017 and was named the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Bosa had four sacks and six tackles for loss in his first three games while Ohio State seemed poise to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But Bosa’s core injury came in the second half of a dominant performance against TCU in the third game. He missed the remainder of the season to prepare for the draft rather than rush his recovery to rejoin Ohio State for its late-season run.
The pick means the 49ers have drafted defensive lineman in the first round in four of the last five years. He’ll join Arik Armstead (2015), DeForest Buckner (2016) and Solomon Thomas (2017) on the talented defensive front. However, a report from Pro Football Talk before the draft Thursday indicated the 49ers were looking to trade Thomas just two years after taking him third overall.
With Bosa likely to play defensive end in base downs and throwing situations, snaps for Thomas might have been hard to come by.
For now, the 49ers believe they have a talented group up front with Bosa, Buckner and Ford around to elevate a defense that struggled in recent seasons trying to get to the postseason for the first time since 2013.