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NFL Draft: Do the Cardinals Play Safe and Take Nick Bosa First?

Continuing our coverage of the 2019 NFL Draft
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The first overall pick is not always a blessing. Sometimes there is no clear consensus number one prospect. Fortunately for the Arizona Cardinals, holders of the opening selection in 2019’s annual college-entry event, their decision is likely to be painless. After drafting their franchise quarterback a season ago, the lack of a certified signal-caller is serendipitous. Instead, defensive end Nick Bosa is almost a certainty to hear his name called when the commissioner starts the clock. All opinions converge on the Ohio State product as the best player in this year’s draft.

But should Bosa be a foregone conclusion? There is a chance here that positional value starts to cloud evaluation. Hard to believe in the modern NFL, but there is an argument pass-rushers have been overvalued slightly in general over the past few years. Bradley Chubb (fifth overall in 2018) and Solomon Thomas (third overall in 2017) were overdrafted based, presumably, on a desperation for players who can apply pressure. Undoubtedly, the value of elite edge defenders has increased to reflect the primacy of the passing game in offensive schemes, but the next stage in a constantly evolving field is not far off.

Any forecast of the future of the National Football League needs to turn to the Patriots absurd achievements for answers. A traditional defensive attack, based on forcing long down-and-distance situations to enable edge rushers to wreak havoc, is ineffective. They are too efficient, too methodical, too agonisingly precise. It is the consistency of New England’s short passing game that makes them broadly unstoppable. Elite edge rushes are negated through short drops and intermediate concepts, minimising the time from snap to throw. The Chargers, Chiefs and Rams posed as tough a pass-protecting prospect as was reasonably possible. And yet Brady was barely touched on route to another Lombardi.

Perhaps competing with the best is not the priority of the league’s worst teams. Merely being competitive would be a start. Yet strategies should always be devised with the ultimate prize in mind. Defending the pass has never been more important, but the value of coverage centrepieces appears to have lagged behind their beefier counterparts. Derwin James and Marshon Lattimore both fell to the middle of the first round in the past two seasons. Disrupting route timing, and competing against underneath concepts, is essential to overcoming the league’s best quarterbacks. Press-man standouts like Lattimore or Jalen Ramsey can transform stop-units.

All that leads us back to Bosa. An impressive athlete with remarkable technical refinement, he uses his hands at an elite level to generate separation in his pass-rush sequence. Coupled with excellent explosion to close to the quarterback, it’s safe to assume he’ll be an impact edge defender at the next level. But is his skillset so impressive that he represents a sure-fire first overall pick? Comparisons to his brother aren’t lazy. Bosa junior has been training to become an NFL defensive end since he was old enough to brawl in the backyard. It’s clear Bosa will be a very good pro, but not so clearly superior as to make debate meaningless. A corner like LSU’s Greedy Williams offers significantly more risk, but perhaps also greater reward.

Ultimately the safe option will win-out. And a guaranteed impact edge rusher should not be sniffed at, regardless of whether they require the investment of the first-overall pick. But NFL teams would benefit from being a little more open-minded when it comes to positions at the top of the draft.

By John Breitenbach

You can find the Number One Pick market here.


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