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Rookie spotlight: Boye Mafe shows up big against the 49ers

Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers may have been disheartening, but one bright spot that stood out to me throughout the game was the performance of rookie Boye Mafe. Most notably, he landed his first sack of his NFL career, taking down Jimmy Garoppolo on 3rd and 1 in the red zone, with some assistance from Uchenna Nwosu. Beyond this, though, he had a handful of standout plays and was the highest graded defender on the team per Pro Football Focus; they credit him with 4 stops on the day (‘plays that resulted in a failure for the offense’). Coming on the heels of Week 1 where he failed to record any significant stats, this was an encouraging performance from the rookie. Watching the game in real time, I wasn’t initially focusing on Mafe, but he kept making his presence known, and by the end he was one of the most fun parts of the afternoon, at least as a Seattle Seahawks fan.

While the QB sack is what ultimately looks best on the stat sheet, Mafe also flashed the ability to set the edge in run support and generally looked like an every-down player for this defense. Below is a clip of Mafe’s highlights against the Niners; notice his fluid ability to get in the backfield and be disruptive, as well as his willingness to take on blockers and set the edge. He demonstrates both strength and length with his ability to wrap up the ball carriers, and looks the part of a sure tackler.

The fact that his first sack came while lined up across from All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is impressive, to say the least, but I think the play that stands out to me the most from the above clip is the run stuff on Jeff Wilson at :26 in the clip. Mafe takes on the pulling guard, Spencer Burford, which forces Wilson to try to bounce outside, at which point Boye disengages and wraps up the runner for a loss. The 49ers attempt to run some msdirection out of the pistol formation, but Boye stays true to his assignment and gets the stop on an afternoon where run stops were hard to come by. Given that he can be explosive, seeing him demonstrate patience is important in these situations.

Plays like this may not always look as impressive as a pass rush win, but this was still a big victory for this defense, as it set up third and long, ultimately bringing about a punting situation for San Francisco. The sack, itself, looks like a product of good teamwork and timeliness on Mafe’s part; Uchenna Nwosu was all over the place on Sunday, and he pretty clearly had the first line on Jimmy G, but Mafe did his part though to stay true to his rush and keep his eyes on the QB. If he arrived any later, this wouldn’t have been a sack, but rather a short gain and a first down. Plays like this demonstrate veteran NFL savvy to me — sure, a lot of players can rush the passer, but how many can actually be effective and impactful in critical moments? This may be hard to replicate, obviously, but Mafe has only played two regular season contests, and already the game doesn’t look too big for him to handle.

In addition to the splash plays, Mafe looked solid in his other action. He brought down the runner for short gains in the two other plays above, and he is demonstrating what looks to me like some great instincts as a defender. Plays like those above scream “every down player” and not just “situational pass rusher.” While the team is certainly hoping that Darrell Taylor pulls it together and starts playing like a destructive force again, they have to be happy to see the on-field performance and apparent chemistry between Nwosu and the rookie out of Minnesota. The former Golden Gopher may have a long road ahead of him, but it looks like a road that Boye Mafe is ready to travel.