SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — With San Francisco not in the market for a quarterback heading into this year’s NFL draft, coach Kyle Shanahan was hoping Arizona would take Kyler Murray first and leave the 49ers their choice of defensive players.
When that happened, the Niners leaped at the chance to take defensive end Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick and are quite pleased with how it all worked out.
“I was worried about it until the pick,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “I had a pretty good feeling and hope it would go the direction it did. I didn’t want to play against Kyler either but we knew we weren’t taking a quarterback so we were hoping Nick would be there. … I think both teams are really happy.”
The top two picks will square off Thursday night for what should be the first of many meetings between the NFC West rivals when the 49ers (7-0) visit the Cardinals (3-4-1).
Bosa said he met twice with the Cardinals leading up to the draft and said he has no added motivation facing a team that passed on him six months ago, part of an even-keeled persona the 49ers appreciate so much along with his relentless pass rushing skills that have led to seven sacks already.
“He’s everything you could ask for. He’s probably one of the best picks in 10 years with just how he’s played and he’s played like this since Day 1,” teammate Richard Sherman said. “He plays with such a savviness and such a poise, such an aggression, that it’s like he’s been playing on this level. You can tell he’s been coached up great at a young age.”
The addition of Bosa is one of the biggest differences on a 49ers defense that has gone from mediocre to dominant in just one year. San Francisco set NFL records for futility last year with only seven takeaways and two interceptions in large part because of the lack of an edge rush.
So when the Niners won the draft tiebreaker to pick second after Arizona, they leaped at the opportunity to take the top pass rusher in the class and the move has paid dividends almost immediately.
With Bosa and trade acquisition Dee Ford coming off the edge and former first-round picks DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead providing pressure from the inside, the Niners have completely shut down opposing passing games this season, becoming the first team in 42 years to hold four straight opponents to 100 net yards passing or fewer in a game.
Bosa is a big reason why after recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of training camp and limited his effectiveness early in the season.
But since coming off the bye in Week 4, Bosa has been one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. He had two sacks, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in a breakthrough performance on “Monday Night Football” against Cleveland on Oct. 7 that also featured him mocking Baker Mayfield’s flag-planting celebration at Ohio State a couple of years ago.
He was mostly quiet the following week against the Rams but had another sack and four tackles for a loss two weeks ago against Washington, punctuating that victory with a slide on the muddy field after a sack on the final play.
That was just a warmup act for last Sunday, when Bosa delivered one of the best days ever for an edge rusher. He sacked Kyle Allen three times in the first half.
“Whenever your moves are working really good, it’s just a good feeling,” he said. “Once you get a sack, really it just lets you calm down. I mean, two of those sacks could have been Buckner’s easily. We’ve kind of gone back and forth giving each other sacks this year, so I’m lucky to have two interior guys who close the pocket so well.”
Bosa then provided the signature play of his brief career in the second half. He avoided a cut block and then leaped to intercept a screen pass from Allen. Bosa pushed Allen aside and raced 46 yards on the return, stiff-arming another Carolina player to the ground on the way.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life, just the totality of the game,” Ford said. “That man is special, I said that when I first met him. Once I saw the character in him, I knew that he was going to be special. It was a crazy thing to watch.”
Bosa joined Kevin Williams (2003) and Julius Peppers (2002) as the only rookies with three sacks and an interception in the same game and his seven sacks on the season are tied for the second-most sacks through his first seven games of his career, a half-sack behind Mark Anderson’s mark set in 2006 with Chicago.
“I’m really happy he’s on my team because I don’t want to block him,” Niners tight end George Kittle said. “It’s not very fun in practice, but I’d rather do it then than in the game.”