LB Nick Bolton, Missouri* (6’0”, 232)

Background:

Posted 22-1.0-1.0 over ten games as a freshman, then took over a major role the following year, filling the stat sheet to the tune of 103-8.5-1.0 and adding two interceptions and seven breakups, including one pick-six. Played in ten games as a junior and posted 95-8.0-2.0 with five breakups before declaring for the draft.

Positives:

Comes with two years of high-level production in a major conference. Off-ball linebacker with a very compact build. Temperamentally, a little bit of a throwback to the more physical days of pro football. Plays like his hair is on fire and seems like he’s always around the ball, reading keys well as a downhill run-stuffer. Aggressively shoots gaps and smacks ballcarriers when he has a lane into the backfield; the type of player who can help set a physical tone defensively. Does a nice job of keeping his shoulders square between the tackles. Has the short-area quickness to work his way around would-be blockers and get to the football efficiently, but also demonstrates impressive toughness to attack blockers when he needs to. Difficult to bait with misdirection. Gives good effort when pursuing and will chase to the sidelines, demonstrating adequate to above-average overall athleticism. Capable of making spot-drops into zone coverage, showing quick feet when backpedaling into place. Got his hands on a lot of throws.

Negatives:

Size is really just adequate for a pro linebacker, even now that players at the position are getting smaller. Gets to a lot of plays because of his instincts and motor, but doesn’t have quite the speed and range of some of the other top linebackers in this year’s class. Takes some circuitous angles at times to avoid blockers. Lack of length impacts his tackling radius, causing him to come up just short at times when pursuing in space. Will also lapse into hitting without wrapping. May struggle to line up in man coverage against receivers and tight ends and wasn’t really asked to work in man during the games reviewed.

Summary:

A true football player who’s fun to watch because of the sense of urgency he plays with and the big hits he can deliver when he’s able to read keys and charge through gaps to stuff running backs, but who has some physical and athletic limitations that might constrict the range of responsibilities he’ll be able to execute at a high level in the pros. Could potentially work as a weakside linebacker, but would probably be best if he was able to play to his strengths in a phone booth as a middle ‘backer, potentially in either an even or odd defensive front.

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