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Nick Bosa can beat Bryant Young’s franchise sack record, and here’s how it could play out

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


One year in, it’s immediately apparent that Nick Bosa is the most dominant pass rusher the 49ers have had since Aldon Smith, who, during his abbreviated peak, was one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history. Could he break Bryant Young’s franchise record of 89.5 regular season sacks?

Young, the newest member of the 49ers’ Hall of Fame, who once thought it could be Smith, said he could see Bosa doing that.

“There are guys there that have the potential to succeed that. So we’ll sit back and eat our popcorn and see what happens,” Young said Wednesday. “But certainly, you’ve got some guys. There are guys like Nick Bosa and a couple other guys that have the ability.”

The obvious questions are whether Bosa will continue his steep trajectory, if he will remain healthy and if he will remain with the 49ers.

Bosa told KNBR last year that he was working on a spin move and cross chop with his brother, Joey Bosa, this offseason, and there’s every bit of evidence to believe that his work ethic is elite. He also trains heavily on pliability and flexibility to avoid injuries. While there’s no exact science for injury prevention, Bosa does about all you could hope for with a franchise edge rusher.

Assuming he does stay (mostly) healthy and continues to improve (every sign suggests he will), it’s a matter of him staying with the 49ers, which we’ll assume, at this point, he will.

In order to figure out whether Bosa will break Young’s record and when to expect that, KNBR looked at data from the all-time leaders in sacks, and from the greatest rookie pass-rushers in NFL history. The data assessed includes Young (tied for 50th all time in sacks), the next nine players tied or above him, the top-10 sack leaders of all time, and the 10 players in between both groups.

For the rookie seasons, data from every rookie pass rusher with at least 9.0 sacks and above was assessed.

Here’s the breakdown:

Of those 30 of the 52 greatest pass-rushers of all time who reached 89.5 sacks or more, it took, on average, 9.95 seasons to reach or surpass Young’s tally of 89.5 sacks, with the average being 9.5 sacks per season. The average highest sack total of those players was 16.0, and the average lowest was 2.78 sacks.

Perhaps most interestingly, of those 30 players, the average sack tally of their combined rookie years was just 5.35 sacks. In that sense, Bosa is already ahead of the pace.

Those 30 players had an average career length of 13.53 years, and 8.77 sacks per season. Joey Bosa, through four years of his career, has 40 sacks, with a high of 12.5 sacks and a low of 5.5 sacks. If you’re a math buff, that puts him on track to pass Young by the conclusion of his ninth season.

But again, Nick Bosa has played just one great season. What about all those guys who had fantastic rookie years? There are 37 other players in NFL history who had the same 9.0 sacks Bosa had or more, including Joey Bosa (10.5 sacks) and the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby last year (10.0 sacks). 10 of those 38 are current players, four of whom who have played for at least nine seasons. Two of those players, in Clay Matthews (91.5 sacks) and Von Miller (106 sacks), have surpassed Young’s total, and Carlos Dunlap (81.5 sacks) is eight shy.

Of those 30 former players who had 9.0-plus sack seasons, the average career length was 9.89 seasons, the average sack per-season tally was 6.57 sacks, and the average career tally was 69.22 sacks.

If any of that was confusing, here’s what we learned:

  • Most players who have outstanding rookie sack totals like Nick Bosa aren’t flukes. They played, on average, 9.89 seasons in the NFL, averaged 6.57 sacks per year and 69.22 sacks for their career. Including Von Miller, Clay Matthews, Carlos Dunlap, Aaron Donald, Joey Bosa, Aldon Smith and excluding Crosby, Nick Bosa and Bradley Chubb that per-season sack number is 7.66 sacks per year.
  • Among 30 of the 52 players who reached Bryant Young’s 89.5-sack number, the average was 9.95 seasons to reach or surpass Young’s record, with an average career length of 13.53 seasons. Those players averaged 9.5 sacks per season.
  • The NFL’s top-10 sack leaders of all time averaged 11.11 sacks per season in the seasons until they passed Young’s total of 89.5 sacks, which took them, on average, 8.39 years. Reggie White accomplished that feat in less than six seasons, the fastest among any NFL player in history. That elite group had an average peak year of 18.4 sacks. On average, that group had 6.1 sacks in their rookie year. Only White, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs had more than Nick Bosa’s nine rookie sacks.
  • Bosa is basically a lock to surpass his 9.0-sack total, and likely multiple times if he’s healthy, but will also likely have at least one season below that number. Just about every player on both lists did both. If he plays at least 10 seasons with the 49ers, he will break Bryant Young’s franchise record. If he wants to establish himself near the upper echelon, he needs to have at least one season in which he doubles his nine-sack total, and consistent years around the 10.0 sack number.
  • If mostly healthy, with continued improvement, Bosa projects to break Young’s franchise record at earliest during his eighth season, and at latest in his 10th season.
 

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