SANTA CLARA -- Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa might not be an NFL talent evaluator, but he knew whichever player was selected No. 2 overall was going into an ideal situation with the 49ers.
The 49ers had a lot of talent returning, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played just three games before sustaining a torn ACL in 2018. The 49ers slid to a 4-12 record and were set to pick behind only the two-win Arizona Cardinals.
Moreover, the 49ers had already made significant gains in the offseason with the acquisition of edge rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs by the time the NFL draft rolled around.
“Just being a football fan last year, knowing what kind of players they had on the roster,” said Bosa, who was named NFL Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America this week. “I didn't know to this extent how good the depth was and stuff like that, but I just knew that of the top teams picking, this was definitely the most playoff-ready team.”
Bosa and Ford did not line up together as much as either player would have liked during the regular season. But that makes little difference now.
Ford missed all but four snaps in the final six games of the regular season with a hamstring injury. He was back on the field in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, and Bosa could feel the benefits.
“Just having Dee is a mismatch for just about anybody, which opens up things for the other guys and everybody reaps the benefit,” Bosa said.
Bosa registered two sacks and Ford had a sack of his own in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.
Ford brings a unique ability to threaten offensive linemen off the snap of the ball with his quickness. And that kind of ability to get around the edge is something that helps everyone on the 49ers’ defensive line, including defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.
“Just speed. It makes the O-Line think,” Bosa said. “They usually know something's up and then we can catch them off guard with some other things. Then, obviously the other side of the line has to deal with Buck and Armstead.”
The key to the 49ers’ pass rush against the Vikings, in many ways, was a direct result of the team’s ability to handle running back Dalvin Cook on the early downs. That will be an equally important part of dealing with the Packers’ offense on Sunday.
The key to defending the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers will be to keep running back Aaron Jones in check. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek always makes stopping the run his top priority.
“The same thing needs to happen for us to win,” Bosa said. “It usually revolves around stopping the run, setting edges, stuff like that. Just being physical is probably his biggest message every week.”
General manager John Lynch sought out to build a dominant defensive line after inheriting a team that included first-round picks Armstead and Buckner.
The 49ers drafted Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall in 2017. Ford, a 2014 first-round pick of the Chiefs, was added in a trade for a second-round pick. And Bosa gave the 49ers a fifth first-round selection along the defensive line.
Each of those players got into the sack column against the Vikings. And they are expecting more to come in the postseason.
“From the beginning of the year, we knew there was a lot invested in the room and if the team wanted to go where we wanted to go, we had to be a part of it,” Bosa said. “And, obviously, it's not all up to us because we've had bad games and everybody else has picked up the slack for us. We just need to finish this year out strong.”
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)
Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.