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Trent Williams vs. Nick Bosa: Who is more valuable to the 49ers in 2023?

Jun 9, 2023 at 2:00 PM--

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It's that time of the offseason.

The draft has come and gone, OTAs have just started up, but several months still remain between now and the first snap of the 2023 season. Given the lull in breaking news and big games, it's a good time to get a bit more... philosophical.

Today, I wanted to compare two of the 49ers' most consistent talents of the 2022 season - veteran LT Trent Williams and reigning DPOY Nick Bosa. The question is simple; given a full, healthy season, who does more to help the 49ers win a Super Bowl this year? Whose talents are the most vital to the annual quest for a Lombardi Trophy, and which one can San Francisco least afford to lose?

These players, of course, play entirely different positions and occupy different roles on the team. That's part of the thought exercise. Ranking wide receivers or cornerbacks against each other is one thing, but appreciating the individual excellence of these players and evaluating how they improve the team as a whole is another entirely. That's the beauty of the 49ers, though. With as much talent as they have on their roster, there's no shortage of players to dream on and celebrate.

With that said, let's make an argument for each player, starting with Williams, and see what conclusions we can draw from this exercise.

LT Trent Williams

2022 stats: 14 games (872 snaps), 0 sacks allowed, 6 penalties, 1st team All-Pro, 15.0 Approximate Value

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams (71) walks off the field after defeating the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium. Image Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

"Silverback" has been one of the best linemen in the game since being traded to San Francisco in 2020, and as he enters his age-35 season, things are lined up for him to once again top the rankings in 2023. Offensive linemen are notoriously difficult to evaluate on paper, which means Williams probably isn't getting as much attention as he should for his feats. Pro Football Focus ranks Williams the top offensive tackle entering the 2023 season, due in large part to the fact that he's been their highest-graded offensive lineman for the last three years straight. Being the best of the best for two straight years, let alone three, is an astronomically difficult task in today's NFL, which is in part why Williams was recognized for 1st team All-Pro after last year's campaign.

The 16 pressures and 0 sacks he allowed in 14 games serves as a measure of how impactful the 6'5 tackle is, but Williams' impact goes beyond keeping the QB safe (an increasingly important job in San Francisco the last few years). His ability to pair top-tier pass blocking with impactful run blocking makes him one of the few true non-QB foundational players in the league. So what does a prime Trent Williams 2023 look like?

We're probably looking at 15-16 games, a healthy postseason run, no more than 0.5 sacks/game, and top-3 or top-5 production in both run and pass blocking at any given time. "Production" might be the wrong word to use here, given the paucity of stats for offensive lineman, but certainly Williams is both capable of and expected to put up another All-Pro type season this year. He is, very arguably, the best tackle in the league entering the 2023 season. Could the 49ers, rolling with a quarterback room of Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, and Sam Darnold afford to lose Williams? More than that, if he were to leave the team today, the 49ers would greatly miss his mentorship of a young and unproven offensive line. We've seen Williams take players like Jason Poe, Spencer Burford, and now Leroy Watson (a converted tight end who's been on the 49ers' practice squad since last September) under his wing. The ongoing development of the rest of the offensive line will be an incredibly important story in 2023, and Williams has ample opportunity there to make an impact even beyond being one of the best in the league last his position.

EDGE Nick Bosa

2022 stats: 16 games (746 snaps), 18.5 sacks, 41 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, Defensive Player of the Year, 18.0 Approximate Value

USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) lines up before a snap against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. Image Credit: Darren Yamashita USA TODAY Sports

Consistency and excellence are the name of the game. Being great is exciting, obviously. But the difference between the guys that break out and grab a big contract and the dudes that are true Hall-of-Famers is taking an outstanding season and doing it over and over and over again. That's why Trent Williams, with his long and decorated career of dominance on the line, is such a unicorn. It's almost impossible to compare players to Williams, because there's just nobody quite like him. Nobody, that is, except Nick Bosa.

Bosa, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has lived up to his billing as the no. 2 overall draft pick in 2019. Other than an ACL tear in 2020 that he seems to have fully recovered from, Bosa's rise has been as consistent as it's been swift. In his rookie year, he tallied 9.0 sacks en route to a Defensive Rookie of the Year award, then followed it up with 15.5 in 2021 and now 18.5 last year, having set personal bests in solo tackles and quarterback hits as well. Now, he's entering his physical prime for the 2023 season, and he's on pace for some truly outrageous production.

Last year proved that even when the rest of the line struggles, Bosa stands out as one of the game's greats. What can he do this year, with Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead poised to play next to him on the inside of the defensive line? I don't think it's unreasonable to think that he breaks the 20 sack barrier in his fifth year in the NFL, maybe even climbing as high as 24-25 with a long postseason run. Bosa already put up an Approximate Value last year that was 20% higher than T.J. Watt's when Watt tied the modern NFL record with 22.5 sacks in 2021. Bosa's AV was also just a point or two behind league leaders Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Patrick Mahomes in the regular season. Could he become the single most valuable player in the NFL in 2023 with a full, healthy season alongside premier interior rushers? And if he is, and the Niners suffer an injury basically anywhere else along the starting defensive line, where would they be next year without him?

Final Thoughts

The conundrum in this situation comes from both players being so, so similar. As top-tier players in the most impactful positions on the lines, they each excel at dominating in both the run and pass games. They're both universally acclaimed as the best of the best in their fields, in part because their consistency makes them someone you have to game plan around each and every week. On a purely individual level, Nick Bosa probably has the edge, no pun intended. Defensive Player of the Year accolades are just a bit more valuable than first team All-Pros, and the positional difference makes Bosa a bit more of an impact player in playoff environments. But given the state of the 49ers as a whole, I'm leaning more towards Williams.

San Francisco has such a volatile situation on offense, removing Williams could cause a domino effect that sinks the 49ers back into relative mediocrity. The irony is that they're stacked elsewhere, with George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel all roaming around as skill players. But the offensive line might feature three starters with less than three years of experience in 2023. Considering Williams' role as a vocal team leader, he'll probably do more to ensure the stability of that unit than Bosa would with, say, Drake Jackson. And the defense doesn't have to manage a delicate quarterback situation, where the positional outlook by Week 8 is murky at best. They'll need Williams to remain in place to ensure things don't go sideways behind center. And with things locked down on offense, the defense will get more than its fair share of chances to feast.

Who do you think will be the more valuable player next year? Let us know in the comments below! Be sure to share the most memorable moments from your pick, and keep an eye out for more discussion articles about your favorite players. Go Niners!
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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