SANTA CLARA — Sitting anxiously in the green room during the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tenn., Nick Bosa heard a loud commotion as the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, announced the No. 1 overall pick.
The celebration wasn’t for him. It was the family of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who had just been picked by the Arizona Cardinals.
Bosa didn’t have to wait much longer, though. He went No. 2 to San Francisco. When the 49ers face off against the Cardinals on Thursday night, it will not only pit one of the most imposing pass rushers in the league against one of its most exciting young quarterbacks, but it will mark just the sixth time in 30 years that the top two picks in the same NFL Draft will play one another in the ensuing season on opposite sides of the ball.
Since arriving, he’s largely been quiet and understated, from his simple, matter-of-fact postgame comments to celebrating sacks like his brother, with a simple shoulder shrug.
“It’s just who I am,” Bosa said. “I’m super happy, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know. It’s just me.”
He’s also been highly productive. Over the first seven games, only six other 49ers have played a higher percentage of defensive snaps than Bosa. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Week leads San Francisco with seven sacks — tied for seventh-most in the NFL. Three of those came against Carolina on Sunday, when he also tallied an interception, becoming the first rookie since 2003 to have at least three sacks and a pick in the same game. Sherman went so far as to say that Bosa should be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Arizona’s pick has played out well, too. Murray has led the Cardinals to a 3-4-1 record through eight games, already matching its win total from last season, when the No. 10 pick in 2018 — Josh Rosen — went 3-13.
“They needed a quarterback, so, they picked a quarterback,” said Bosa, who bears no ill will toward Arizona for its choice.
With 1,988 passing yards to go along with 279 more on the ground, Murray has a chance to become the fourth quarterback in league history to pass for over 4,000 yards while rushing for over 500.
“We loved Nick Bosa in the entire [draft] process,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We ended up taking Kyler. We thought that was the best move for our organization. But we knew whoever was going to take Nick was going to get a dominant player in this league.”
“I was worried about it until the pick,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I had a pretty good feeling and hoped that [Arizona was] going in the direction that they did … They kept it close to their vest, so you never truly knew until the end. I think both teams are real happy.”
Shanahan’s defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, was also nervous about Arizona’s move in the leadup to the draft. He was eager to add Bosa to his defensive line as a wide-nine technique and a pass-rushing specialist.
“I’m a negative Nancy, so I’m always thinking that it’s going to go on the wrong end of the stick until it goes positive,” Saleh said. “I wasn’t quite sure until [Murray’s] name was called so it was exciting to be honest with you.”
Taking on the Cardinals for the first time this season on Thursday, Saleh will have a chance to unleash Bosa on Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner. It will be just the sixth time since 1989 that the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in the previous draft face off in their rookie seasons, and just the third time the pair will be a quarterback and a defensive lineman.
The last time came in 2017, when Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (No. 1) took on the Chicago Bears’ Mitch Trubiskey (No. 2). Trubiskey emerged victorious with a 20-3 win, passing for 193 yards and no touchdowns.
Bosa is looking forward to facing the elusive Murray. The goal is to spark a few celebrations of his own.
“It’s definitely a new challenge,” Bosa said. “He’s still sackable because he likes to try and extend plays. It’s definitely going to be different … It should be fun.”