Nick Bosa sacked quarterbacks an NFL-high 18 ½ times this season, earning the 49ers’ star the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at Thursday night’s NFL Honors show in Phoenix.
Bosa, 25, is only the third 49ers player to win that honor, joining Deion Sanders (1994) and Dana Stubblefield (1997). Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons were this season’s other finalists.
In other results involving the 49ers, quarterback Brock Purdy finished third in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting to Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson and Seattle running back Kenneth Walker, while running back Christian McCaffrey (comeback player of the year) and coach Kyle Shanahan (coach of the year) were also finalists.
Bosa won in landslide, getting 46 of 50 first-place ballots and being named on 49 of 50. Parsons finished second, followed by Jones and Philadelphia edge rusher Haason Reddick. The only players to get first place votes other than Bosa were Jones (1), Reddick (2) and Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
Bosa thanked his family and the 49ers organization in a brief acceptance speech.
“If I’ve learned one thing in life up to this point, whatever end goal you have in mind, it’s not going to be a smooth path. There’s going to be times where you’re questioning yourself. But if you stay the course and believe in yourself and take it one day at a time, there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
DeMeco Ryans, the 49ers defensive coordinator and now head coach of the Houston Texans, was named as the NFL’s Assistant Coach of the Year.
When Bosa won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors three years ago, he was too busy to personally accept the award, seeing how the 49ers were preparing for the Super Bowl. This time, Bosa and the 49ers had their season end in the NFC Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles, who will take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVII.
“It was an unbelievable season and we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to build on,” Bosa said as the 49ers cleaned out their lockers Jan. 31. “There’s going to be a lot of the same guys back, so that’s exciting. It’s obviously never the same group, which makes the NFL tough.
“You just have to appreciate life and keep living.”
Bosa is collecting multiple awards for his career-best season: All-Pro, Pro Bowl, the 49ers’ Len Eshmont and Matt Hazeltine awards, and defensive player of the year nods from the Pro Football Writers of America and Fox Sports.
Rather than play for $18.9 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, Bosa is expected to land a record-setting contract extension, likely before training camp starts in late July.
“He’s a fantastic football player, he’s a game changer of a football player,” general manager John Lynch said Feb. 1.
The 49ers have a history of rewarding their own, doing so annually since 2018 with market-setting deals for Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Fred Warner, Kyle Juszczyk, Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel.
Bosa said last week that he was not necessarily looking to become the NFL’s highest-paid defender.
“It takes time, it takes patience, it takes persistence, and we’ll have that on our side,” Lynch added. “He’s represented by very good and capable people. And you heard Nick (last week), he never seems to get too excited.
“He’s pretty chill about the whole thing and I think with that in mind and each of us wanting the same thing, we’ll be able to come to an agreement.”
Bosa was emerging as a strong player-of-the-year candidate even while the 49ers took a 4-4 record into their bye week, when he had 8 ½ sacks. He added 10 more sacks and they won out to take a 13-4 record, the NFC West crown and the No. 2 seed into the playoffs.
“If we could win the Super Bowl, I really could not care less about anything else,” Bosa told the Bay Area News Group on Nov. 2. “That’s the good thing about our team: We actually have the mindset of winning games, as opposed to individual stuff.”
Bosa’s 18 ½ sacks were one shy of the 49ers’ franchise record (Aldon Smith, 2012). His 48 quarterback hits were also the NFL’s most this season, and he had 19 tackles for loss that tied for second-most.
Bosa’s individual dominance went over quite well with his teammates, who selected him as the Len Eshmont Award winner, for inspirational and courageous play.
“It’s like watching manslaughter, you know what I’m saying?” defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw said of Bosa. “No matter who he goes against, the odds are in his favor at all times.”
Two of Bosa’s more memorable pass rushes this season: sacking the Saints’ Andy Dalton on fourth-and-goal in the 49ers’ Nov. 27 shutout win, and pressuring the Raiders’ Jarrett Stidham into throwing an overtime interception.
Bosa did not have a sack in four of the 49ers’ final five games, including none in the playoffs.
“You kind of get comfortable seeing sacks on the stat sheet every week,” he said. “But the impact of a game, there’s a lot more to it. Sacks are an important stat. But there’s a lot more to playing football. I didn’t change anything, so I’ll keep doing the same things.”
That means sticking to his offseason training regimen in his native Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before eventually rejoining the 49ers’ quest to reach the playoffs a fourth time in his five seasons.
The 49ers reached their third NFC title game since 2019 despite starting three different quarterbacks, which taught Bosa and others a lesson in adversity.
“You could really fight through everything that this league throws at you, and you shouldn’t give up at any point, no matter who you lose,” he said of his biggest takeaway from the year. “No matter what ups and downs a season brings, you can get through it and have a successful year.”