Joey Bosa Can Be Solid NFL Player, but Not Perennial Pro Bowl Talent

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa plays against Minnesota during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

For three years, Joey Bosa has been a college football star. The question now is how he will transition to the next level.

As a true freshman defensive end for the Ohio State Buckeyes, the pass-rusher was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten player, as well as a Freshman All-American. However, it wasn't until Larry Johnson got his hands on him that Bosa truly started meeting his potential.

Johnson was a longtime coach at Penn State, where he worked on first-round defensive ends like Tamba Hali, a six-time Pro Bowler, Cameron Wake, a four-time Pro Bowler, and Courtney Brown, the first overall pick from the 2000 NFL draft.

When Johnson joined the Buckeye coaching staff in 2014, Bosa's true sophomore season, that's when honorable mention Big Ten honors turned into first-team All-Big Ten honors and Freshman All-American lists dropped the "freshman."

In his two years under Johnson, Bosa was named the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year twice, and the top defensive player in the conference in 2014. In 2015, ironically, he was passed up for the award by Carl Nassib, who Bosa beat out for the defensive lineman of the year award and was first developed by Johnson.

In many ways, Bosa's background sounds like fiction. His father, John Bosa, was a first-round defensive tackle. His uncle, Eric Kumerow, was a captain at Ohio State before being drafted in the first round as a defensive end by the Miami Dolphins in 1988, one year after the elder Bosa was their top pick.

Born from two different NFL lineages, he was raised in South Florida, possibly the most talent-rich area in the country. If iron truly does sharpen iron in the football world, he was in the right place. St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where he played for the Raiders, features alumni in the NFL such as Geno Atkins, Giovani Bernard and Phillip Dorsett.

For college, he left the sun to attend his uncle and mother's alma mater, where, in his second year, after seeing immediate playing time, he was paired up with one of the best defensive line coaches to ever walk through the Big Ten. After just three years, with his 6'5", 278-pound frame, he declared for the NFL draft, with a national championship ring to show for his efforts.

People get excited about Bosa, and for good reason: He's a very talented football player. However, it feels as though the general public, who have seen him grow from a 17-year-old super recruit to a soon-to-be NFL starter, has been riding his wave of success, to the point where no one has really stopped long enough to breathe, regather and ask what he brings to the table as a professional prospect.

Is Joey Bosa a first-round prospect? Absolutely. Anyone with a feel of what first-round defensive linemen look like can tell you that after watching 10 minutes of him on any given Saturday. Not all first-round picks are the same, though, nor should they be treated the same.

Pro-Football Reference has documented a draft pick trade value chart that Jimmy Johnson used when he was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. The chart has been outdated in the nearly two-and-a-half decades since it was developed, yes, but it still proves a point. According to Johnson, the first overall pick is worth four times the value of the 24th overall pick, a mid to late first-round choice.

The message is clear: If you have a high draft choice, you better be right. Those selections are expensive and valuable. They shouldn't be used on just good players. You can find plenty of good players sitting around on the draft board when the 24th team is on the clock on draft day. What you should be looking for if you're drafting in the top-five is an elite talent, someone you can build a franchise around.

That player has to be part of the reason your squad vaults up from the bottom of the league, because if you return to the depths that earn a team a top-five pick again, there's no promise that anyone in the organization will still have a job the next go around.

Is Bosa that type of talent? He's been booked as the next "guy" since he was a freshman, and it appears that most still hold those feelings for him. As of now, NFL.com's staff have put out four mock drafts, which feature the Buckeye coming off the board as high as first overall and as "low" as sixth overall.

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus also has Bosa being drafting with the top pick in his most recent mock. CBS Sports' draft experts also have him listed as a top-five selection.

Traditionally, if you talk about a first-round pass-rusher, what comes to mind is an athlete like Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware, defenders who can "bend the edge." What that means, is that they have flexible enough hips and ankles that when they sprint past offensive linemen, they can dip and contort their bodies to the point that offensive tackles can't truly stop them when matched up one-on-one.

Bosa isn't that type of defensive end on film. When he's given space as a defensive end with a free B-gap on his inside, he naturally leans toward the inside alley, which is the shortest distance to the quarterback, but he isn't typical of a game-changing pass-rusher.

Don't get him confused for a Vic Beasley or Khalil Mack type. He's not an edge defender who moves like a linebacker in space. That's not where he wins as a football player. In fact, he's spent a decent amount of time as a 3-technique defensive tackle for Ohio State, where he's won in a phone booth with an arm over swim and counter navigation.

After watching Bosa's final year at Ohio State, a couple of things are apparent: He's going to be a force as an inside threat, both as a pass-rusher and as a penetrator in the ground game. He also has long arms and hands that often win the battle to get inside an offensive lineman's chest.

Bosa generates enough power to be a "crash" defensive end in the league, where he lines up from a wide stance to convert speed to power and collapse the pocket through an offensive tackle rather than going around him. However, it also apparent he's not good enough on his feet to win by taking the outside line against NFL bookends, as his arches are often wide, slow and time-wasting.

There's a mold for that player in the league right now: Robert Ayers of the New York Giants. Ayers was drafted 18th overall by the Denver Broncos in 2009, and prior to 2015, his single-season career-high in sacks was his 5.5 mark he had in 2013, the year his rookie contract was expiring. This past season, though, he had a breakout, earning 9.5 sacks.

Why the sudden explosion? First, he was finally treated like the primary rusher on his team, as Jason Pierre-Paul was working through his transition back to the football field after his firework accident, so the Giants' staff was scheming him sacks. Second, eight of those sacks came via a five-game hot streak at the end of New York's year.

Of the eight, three of them came from Ayers lining up as a defensive tackle, three others came from him winning with either power or an inside move and the last two came as Ayers took an outside lane.

For a typical No.1 pass-rusher, you're assuming around 75 percent of his career sacks come from bending the edge.

Ayers is the inverse of that. When Ayers was able to execute those outside sacks, it was against a rookie left tackle lining up as a tight end in a seven-linemen set and when he lined up wide on a left tackle and was never touched by the bookend.

His inside sacks were more conducive to repeated success, whereas his outside production seems more like "right place, right time" type of luck.

He's shown both the ability to open up a short distance to the quarterback by forcing an offensive lineman's inside foot back and by driving straight through the tackle into the quarterback. Sound familiar? 

Ayers as a DE vs D'Brick in empty. Gets the sack after moving his inside foot back. pic.twitter.com/fAwxmJ1Dyt

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 4, 2016 

Ayers winning with power again as a DE. pic.twitter.com/XF2SqOq5N9

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 4, 2016

Bosa isn't J.J. Watt. He isn't Jared Allen. He's more like Robert Ayers than anyone wants to readily admit. Ayers is a good football player, who can flex inside and outside, lining up from defensive tackle to a wide-9 crash defensive end. You have to scheme sacks for that player, though, and he's going to max out as an eight- to 10-sack player, even then.

The Ohio State pass-rusher isn't going to be running around bookends at 270-plus pounds like Ezekiel Ansah, Everson Griffen or Cameron Jordan were able to do in 2015. He's just not that level of an athlete, and that's fine.

That being said, how high are you drafting Ayers, who is averaging just over a sack every four games during his seven-season career?

Joey Bosa is a multi-faceted tool who can fit on any 4-3 defense as hybrid end and tackle. He wins more with gritty power and tremendous length than he does with gifted speed and hips. Unfortunately, that's typically a player who goes in the middle of the first round, not the top-five selections.

In this draft class, thin at the top, maybe Bosa's college production and life pedigree will vault him into that conversation, but anyone expecting a repeated double-digit sack artist is mistaken.

Power rushers have their place in the NFL, but the level of difficulty of facing Big Ten right tackles is completely different than when professional offenses declare you as their biggest threat in pass protection.

For teams like the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns, they need to ask themselves honestly, can they take a defensive end who will likely earn five or six sacks on a consistent basis that high, because asking more than that out of the Buckeye doesn't align with what his skill set was in college or with what similar pass-rushing bodies do in the NFL.