The Chiefs rookie linebacker stepped up and made plays in the giant Thursday Night win over the Las Angeles Chargers. He is a part of the core moving forward, and his play reflects a much larger impact to come in the near future.
Nick Bolton didn’t run very fast at his pro day this spring at Mizzou. He didn’t jump very high, and due to him being under six feet tall it was leading to some criticism about what kind of a pro he would end up being. The graphic below was going around a lot after the Kansas City Chiefs selected him in the second round of the draft.
The relative athletic score is very basic, it measures the athletic ability of players based on how they perform at their pro days or combine appearances. These workouts are televised, broken down, analyzed, and often time used as a tool for teams to find their guys in the NFL draft.
Bolton didn’t have a good pro day and not even an average one at that. His RAS was very low, putting him in the 33rd percentile of linebackers, which is not good.
The main talk around Kansas City after they drafted Bolton was that his limited size and athletic ability would limit him as a player, and make him only be as one individual described to me a “Reggie Ragland type”, which I personally thought was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard.
It was kind of funny that while many were obsessing about how his workouts in shorts and a t-shirt went they were largely ignoring how he played football at Mizzou, which is kind of important. A few individuals focused on his stellar tackling, big hits, and playmaking instincts that he displayed while in college, and sources close to the Mizzou football program told me they felt he would be a “Pro Bowl All-Pro type guy” for the majority of his career. After breaking down his film I would have to agree.
Bolton leads the team in tackles with 102 total, which is remarkable considering he has only played 62% of the snaps this season. He is still rotating with Hitchens on the majority of plays, has played out of position some while Willie Gay was injured, but the last few weeks we have seen him step in and play more at the Mike linebacker position. Thursday night against the Chargers Bolton had 14 tackles, but he showed improvement in pass defense, which was not a strong area for him early on in the season.
Bolton’s instincts were on full display again, and when he gets to the ball he comes with violent intentions. His ability to recognize plays in the run game has been stellar all season long but as the season has progressed he has steadily gotten better at seeing the different passing patterns that NFL teams have used against him.
His eyes were already good but now they have gotten even better which has allowed him to play faster and let his ability take over. The combination of tackling inside the box, with the ability to play passes in the middle is something that will make it very hard for Steve Spagnuolo to keep him off the field.
Anthony Hitchens will likely be a player who will end up a cap casualty after this season, but it is clear that Bolton is outperforming him this year and is on his way to being the starting mike linebacker of this defense for the foreseeable future. Hitchens has consistently struggled to defend the pass since he has come to Kansas City, which is one reason the team drafted Willie Gay last year who we have seen have excellent stretches of play defending the passing game. If Bolton can continue to steadily improve his play he will be a player who can excel in all phases of the linebacker position. He will be the leader of the defense soon enough, and it is time for him to get the respect he deserves. Rookies make mistakes, but the good ones can learn from them and find new ways to develop their game. We have seen this first hand from Nick Bolton this season, and we should see more moving forward.