From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#32 Nick Bolton/iLB/Missouri/5’11”, 228 Lbs
-Athletic off-ball linebacker who works well downhill against the run
-Sound tackler with good overall technique
-Packs a real punch as a tackler
-Processes plays in front of him quickly with good initial first step
-Loves to attack downhill and impose his will
-Sound at slipping tackles and penetrating into the backfield
-High motor player overall
-Comfortable dropping into shallow zone, handles crossing routes well overall
-Smaller linebacker overall
-Height and length are below average for the position
-Struggles to work off blocks in traffic and can be engulfed by linemen at the second level
-Overall speed is average in coverage
-Does not carry up the field well in man; slow to flip hips and drifts off coverage
-Can take himself out of plays by trying to slip blocks at inopportune times
-Two-year starter at Missouri, playing in 35 career games, starting 22 overall
-Finished Missouri career with 224 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, two interceptions, 15 pass deflections and one fumble recovery
-Named to All-SEC First Team in 2019 and 2020
-Early entry into NFL Draft as a true junior
Built like an old-school linebacker, Missouri’s Nick Bolton brings a ton of production, physicality and surprising athleticism to the position of inside linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
An under the radar recruit out of Texas, Bolton originally committed to Washington before flipping late in the 2018 cycle, choosing Missouri, where he went on to be one of the top defenders in the SEC in back to back years, playing his way into the late Day 1, early Day 2 conversation for the 2021 NFL Draft.
At his best, Bolton is a downhill, penetrating linebacker that roams sideline to sideline against the run while being able to hold up in shallow zone drops. He can handle shallow crossing routes as well as backs out of the backfield.
He can be a three-down linebacker at the next level in the right role overall. He’s not going to give you a ton in man coverage and won’t carry pass catchers down the field in man coverage.
That said, he’s a threat against the run, one who can single-handedly take away an opposing running back.
Bolton is tremendous slipping blocks, knifing through gaps and shows off great closing burst against opposing offenses.
Here against Georgia in 2019, Bolton processes quickly and flies downhill, bursting through the gap to make the tackle for loss deep in his own end.
Against Alabama in 2020, Bolton showed off his quick processing throughout the game, taking a great first step to get moving laterally. Bolton works across the formation with ease, gaining ground in the process, putting him in a position to knife through a gap and make the tackle for loss on Najee Harris.
Bolton is a thunderous hitter working downhill. He’s able to coil his body up and unleash some impressive power in short areas.
Usually when Bolton lines you up and uncoils, you’re the one going backwards. That’s so impressive for a linebacker of his build. He may be on the shorter side with limited length, but he wants to run through you as a tackler.
Usually, that’s what happens.
In coverage, Bolton is not comfortable opening his hips and carrying pass catchers up the field. He doesn’t have the length overall to stay under routes either, making throwing windows smaller.
However, he’s able to use his processing and overall feel to handle dropping into shallow zones well and has the closing speed to jump on crossing routes and take away lanes.
Here against Tennessee in 2019 he does a great job working across the formation late, closing in on the pass catcher to break up the pass.
My only real concern with Bolton comes in the run game. When he’s unable to cleanly process what’s happening in front of him, he becomes delayed and allows defenders to climb to the second level against him.
Once those blockers reach him, he doesn’t have the length to keep blockers at bay. When that happens he gets swallowed up and walked backwards, taking away his true strength of working downhill.
Overall, I think Bolton is a plug-and-play three-down linebacker as a MIKE in a 4-3 and a BUCK in a 3-4. He’s a tackling machine that will help fix any run defense woes a franchise might have, and he’ll set the tone with his physicality and energy.
I could see him slipping into the first round, but I feel more comfortable grabbing him early in the second round.
Projection: Early Day 2
Games watched: Tennessee (2019), Georgia (2019), Ole Miss (2019), Georgia (2020), Florida (2020), Alabama (2020)