The NFC West is pushing hard to be considered the toughest division in the NFC. Seattle and Los Angeles are the at the top of the division, with both teams coming off playoff appearances in 2018. While they attempt to retool and get back to the postseason, San Francisco and Arizona have spent the offseason bringing in a host of talented young players. Ahead of the 2019 season, we take a look at the future of the division and play a little feast or famine, rookie edition.
NFC West Rookies
Remaining healthy will be the key. Bosa was an impressive specimen during his college career, but he played just three games in his final season at Ohio State. However, during those three games, Bosa collected four sacks. Over 17 games, spanning his sophomore and junior seasons, Bosa totaled 22 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
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What makes Bosa’s success easier to predict, is the 49ers’ moves this offseason. In addition to drafting the former Buckeye, the defense added defensive end, Dee Ford. The pass rusher finished 2018 with 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits. San Francisco’s defensive line rotation features five former first round draft selections in Bosa (2019), Solomon Thomas (2017), Deforest Buckner (2016), Dee Ford (2014), and Arik Armstead (2015).
Armstead played well in 2018 and seems to have found his footing. Buckner is quickly becoming one of the top defensive tackles in the league. If Bosa translates his ability to the NFL, the lack of double-teams will be a problem for opposing offenses. To further stack the deck, the 49ers have shifted to a Wide-9 alignment along the defensive line. This places one of the ends on the outside shade of the tight end, while the opposite end is playing the five-technique. This promotes a pass rush and allows athletes to take over.
Long was drafted by the Rams in the third round of this year’s draft. The former Michigan Wolverine was voted first-team All-Big Ten as a junior last season. Long is aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Nearly every piece of film shows the cornerback patiently waiting to initiate contact with the receiver, off the line. Technique is not something Long has shown to lack, rather he is deliberate through the entire route.
During his standout junior season, opposing quarterbacks often avoided Long. However, when tested, Long caused problems for opposing receivers. For all intents and purposes, Long was a solid college cornerback who refused to back down from any challenge. With a glowing review, it begs the question of why David Long would be listed as a rookie who will struggle in the NFL. The answer can be found in his physical characteristics and position.
Speedy corners are able to cover mistakes with the ability to close the distance with a receiver. While Long’s 4.45-40 time isn’t terrible, it does show a lack of top-line speed. Long also lacks optimal length and size at the position, measuring at just under six feet in height and 196 pounds in weight, according to his combine results. It is questionable if Long has the body type and speed to play on the outside, as larger receivers showed the ability to stack on deep routes. If a move inside is needed, it remains to be seen if the rookie will be able to adjust accordingly to playing with a cushion and against some of the shiftier slot receivers in the league.
Truth be told, flipping Bosa for Long isn’t far-fetched. Bosa has the health and production red flags from college. Long faces concerns over his physical traits. Both players were successful in college on high-profile teams. On paper, both players have a defensive unit which should help ease the transition. However, mistakes by a cornerback typically have a larger impact on the game than ones from a defensive end. In the end it comes down to playing the odds. The NFC West will be fun to watch this season. With the season is fast approaching and both players will have a shot at proving the naysayers wrong.