The Kansas City Chiefs turned their attention to linebacker with 58th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here is what Nick Bolton can bring to the table.
Brett Veach is a man of his word. When he says he’s going to do something he does it, and it is not up for debate. I previously wrote about how in his first offseason press conference he addressed the offensive line and defensive line as places the team would address. I have extensively covered the offensive line overhaul in prior work, and the Chiefs did bring in Jarran Reed to bolster the defensive line.
Veach had also mentioned another position in his press conference: linebacker.
The team did bring back Ben Niemann on a one-year contract, but I doubt that was hardly at all what the team considered “improving”. They made no significant moves in free agency so that lead to the draft. Now some of the major conversations across the Kingdom leading up to the draft was that the Chiefs didn’t need a linebacker. Many things fueled this conversation, from greater needs at other positions to the Chiefs tendency to play a high percentage of dime defense.
It wasn’t a popular move, but the Chiefs drafted Nick Bolton out of Mizzou with the 58th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. What they are getting is an instinctual, physical player who has a chance to be one of the future key contributors to the defense.
Bolton is a high IQ downhill football player, but he also does a good job of tackling and playing in space when he needs to. At Mizzou, he played as the traditional middle linebacker where he called the defense and was a team captain.
Bolton is only a modest athlete, which means the fundamentals with which he plays the game are all the more important. At 5’11” and 237 pounds, he isn’t the most overwhelming player in the world, but he can use his stature to his advantage. He can get low and shoot past most offensive linemen, which he used to his advantage when he penetrates the line of scrimmage.
He is a very cerebral player, he knows his deficiencies, but he also knows how to turn them into his strengths. His size gives him natural leverage when tackling, and he has the short burst quickness needed to play within the box, very similar to the Chiefs current Mike linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
Hitchens only has two years left on his current contract, but the Chiefs are already looking ahead to the future where it seems likely that Bolton will be the man to take over. Both players are strong in the box and play the traditional downhill thumper type linebacker role. Hitchens will likely see the majority of reps in 2021, but it seems inevitable that the Chiefs will find a way to get Bolton on the field, whether it be in the Sam backer role, or even as the mike to spell Hitchens.
An area that Bolton can provide and upgrade over Hitchens is in pass coverage. He is by no means expected to be a phenomenal coverage backer, but he has the lateral movement skills and recognition to help the Chiefs out in an area that they struggled in, specifically in covering running backs out of the backfield.
So how will Bolton fit the Chiefs in 2021?
I know many fans will want to cite the lack of playing time for Willie Gay in 2020 as to a reason why Bolton might not see much playing time in 2021, but Bolton has far more experience playing college football than Gay did, and his career production at Mizzou should be enough for the Chiefs defensive staff to look to play him.
The team wants to improve the play at linebacker, as well as find consistency. While it is true some players are better off playing certain positions that fit their physical capabilities, it is also important that a team’s best 11 players be on the field. This is a core philosophy of all Andy Reid-coached teams, and certainly one that we should expect to see when it comes to Bolton in 2020. The Chiefs needed to add more talent to the linebacking core, and they did so. They will have a chance to improve on the defenses weakest position last season, while at the same time developing a good young player.