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Nick Bolton draft scouting report

I Said I Loved You, But I Lied

"PC Load Letter? [What does] that mean?!" Michael Bolton, Office Space

It is hard to resist peer pressure in the NFL draft. Most mock drafts have Missouri LB, Nick Bolton, as a 1st round pick. A few have him as a very early 2nd rounder. Meanwhile, almost every board has Derrick Barnes of Purdue as either an UDFA or a 7th round pick. Everyone can't be wrong, right? If everyone has them ranked like that, it has to be true, doesn't it?

After watching both linebackers, I'm not sure which prospect is better. Honestly. I'd probably go with Barnes. If Nick Bolton "fell" to the Rams at slot 57, the impulse might be to run up to the podium and turn the card in (or whatever the technological equivalent is these days), but maybe we should stop and think that through first.

In 2015, Sports Illustrated said that the Bengals landed 2 of the top steals from Day 2 of the draft when they got Paul Dawson in the 3rd round and tackle Jake Fisher in the 2nd round. Meanwhile, they said that Mitch Morse and Frank Clark were reaches. Multiple draft experts thought that the Rams reached too early when they drafted Rob Havenstein.

Last season, Hav was the 14th highest graded OT in the NFL. He's been a very good player for the Rams. Frank Clark has nearly 50 career sacks. Morse turned out to be a solid starting center. Meanwhile, both Dawson and Fisher were draft busts for the Bengals. Havenstein is arguably the best OT from that draft class. Hav was picked at slot 57, the exact same slot the Rams hold in the 2nd round this year.

To be fair to the experts, there is one recent mock draft that makes my "hot take" about Barnes over Bolton not seem so crazy. Two days ago, Chris Trapasso of CBSSports did a mock draft where he has Derrick Barnes as pick 78 (3rd round), while Nick Bolton is pick 81 (3 slots later). In that mock, he has the Rams drafting a linebacker, Jamin Davis, at pick 57. There are a couple other experts who think that Barnes could be a steal in the middle rounds. So, I'm not entirely a lone wolf howling at the moon.

When Bolton seemed like a 1st round lock, it wasn't necessary to consider him for the Rams, but lately I get a feeling that his stock might be cooling a bit. Missouri has a Pro Day scheduled for March 22, so next week we'll get a better sense of which way the wind is blowing for him.

Background

Listed at 6 feet tall and 232 pounds.

True Junior. 21 years old. Had 3.7 GPA in sport management.

Father, Carlos Bolton, was a LB at Louisiana Tech, where he played with Willie Roaf, one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history.

Starting when Nick was in the 1st grade, his dad would review film with him and teach him X's and O's and how to read plays as a linebacker. By middle school, Bolton was already more advanced than his peers in his football instincts and play recognition.

His older sister was a good athlete, but wasn't able to continue in sports after she had surgery for brain cancer. His mother also had breast cancer. Motivated to succeed in football, because his sister wasn't able to continued her own athletic career. He says he had asthma as a kid. Broke his ankle as a youth. Listed at 5'11'' and 228 pounds when he was a HS recruit. Listed at 235 pounds as a frosh, so he's slightly lighter now than he was his freshman year.

3 star recruit. Initially committed to Washington. They wanted him to sign during the early signing period. He wanted to wait and continued to talk to other schools. This upset Washington's coaches. Depending on who you ask, they either pulled the offer or he decommitted.

Was weakside linebacker in 2019 in a 4-2-5 scheme. Played next to Cale Garrett, who was a star LB and senior captain that year. In the middle of the season, Garrett got injured. He was an UDFA and is currently on a future contract with the NYG. Bolton had to step up and take on a larger role in the defense after Garrett's injury.

In interviews, comes across as player who loves football, with solid football IQ and has his head on straight. Coaches praise his accountability and character.

In 2018, he was a good special teams player on coverage units and a rotational backup at WILL. Looked like he still played on the punt coverage team in 2020, on the line as a blocker.

Ejected for targeting in 2020 game on controversial call. He delivered a big hit into the chest of a WR with his shoulder, but it wasn't ruled to be clean and he was tossed.

Has 2 career INTs, but one was off of a tipped ball by a RB that he got off the deflection (triple catching the ball) and the other one was a pick six he got in garbage time against a backup QB.

2019 (12 games): 107 tackles (74 solo), 7.5 TFL, sack, 2 INT, 10 PD

2020 (10 games): 95 tackles (61 solo), 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 PD

PFF gave him a 91.1 grade in 2019 and said he was the 2nd best returning LB for 2020 behind only Micah Parsons, who opted out and didn't play in 2020.

ESPN 32nd overall, 3rd ILB (1st round)

CBSSports 50th overall (2nd round)

PFF 22nd overall, 3rd LB (1st round)

Daniel Jeremiah 29th overall on his top 50 board (1st round)

Tony Pauline (PFN) 45th overall (2nd round)

Todd McShay mock draft 31st overall (1st round)

CBSSports mock draft (Ryan Wilson) 32nd overall (1st round)

Lance Zierlein 6.33 draft grade. Calls him a 3 down linebacker with heavy hands, physical and tough. Didn't like his average lateral quickness and below average top end speed. Compared to Denzel Perryman (2nd round 2015, Chargers.)

Strengths

Heavy Hitter

Combative, physical disposition on field.

Flowed wide, then had a violent collision near GL to prevent a TD. Hit the runner with a sledgehammer.

Uses shoulder as a weapon, looking to lay lumber on RBs and WRs.

Rudely flings RB out of bounds.

Physical trying to set edge, understands technique for taking on edge blocker.

Attacks downhill against pulling G and blows up a run play. Did good job taking on pulling OT and aggressively stacking the block.

On pass blitz, takes on RB physically.

Sheds and Evades Blocks

Goes to side and ducks under block by center. Juke move to get by OT block at 2nd level. Dodges to side of center's combo block and tackles the RB.

Does juke move to get around pass block by RB.

Uses hands to shed 2nd level blockers. Club move sheds OT.

Diagnoses Plays

Attacks downhill and stuffs cutback on wide zone run. Attacks downhill on another zone run and stuffs the RB at the LOS.

Short yardage run. Outside zone, he reads it, backdoors the OT, then drags the RB down for no gain, preventing the first down.

Sees the OT pull, scrapes over the top of the block and meets the RB in the hole.

Kept clean on gap run, knifes in and makes TFL on RB.

Reads the run, scrapes over the top to get around the guard's block and stops the RB to prevent a TD.

Fast to read screen pass. Anticipates jet sweep.

Quick to see screen and runs past WR before he can make block.

Feels a middle screen coming and swims past the guard's block.

Doesn't overrun from the backside of plays. Protects against cutback runs.

Some Athleticism

Enough speed to run out to flat to cover RBs on most plays.

Thick, muscular build.

Jumped into the passing window against double slant, deflected pass.

Side hurdled to dodge a cut block.

Some change of direction in space to make tackles.

Weaknesses

Limited Athlete

Not fast enough. Doesn't have sideline to sideline pursuit range.

RB goes out to the flat for a short pass. LB from the middle of the field can only arrive in time to tackle from the side and try to drag RB down by legs from behind.

On long run pursuing fast RB, the RB pulls away from him in the open field even though LB has a slight angle on him.

Saw that it was race to edge against RB, but not enough speed burst to win the race, beaten to corner by RB. Wide toss, not able to pursue fast enough to sideline.

Against a QB who runs a 4.7 sec 40, they are both on the same hash mark, then run towards the wide side of the field. Neither player is sprinting at full speed, they are on cruise. The QB gains 7 yards from where he started, which is only 1 yard up from where the LB started, so instead of meeting him closer to the mid point, LB lets him get further upfield.

The QB takes off scrambling. Bolton is standing 12 yards upfield. There is no closing burst by the LB to try to close the space. QB is stopped on the same yard line as the LB's original starting point. Instead of meeting in the middle, the LB just passively allows the QB gain yardage.

Undersized without great length. Can get overwhelmed by bigger blockers. Not impactful in middle in short yardage and GL situations, made to look small.

Doesn't have a 2 step burst. Reads screen pass well and sheds the center, but he doesn't have enough short area burst. When he dives and tries to tackle the legs of the RB, he has his tackle broken. If he had more of an explosive first step, he probably makes that play.

Good job shedding guard, but he doesn't have enough lateral explosion (or longer arms) and he fails to tackle the RB in the hole, resulting in a long TD run.

It is 3rd&4. He's lined up out wide as a CB against 2 stacked receivers (maybe one of them was a RB.) He's the unblocked defender off of the LOS. After the ball is snapped, the WR/RB steps backwards for a quick screen. Instead of mirroring and driving on it, Bolton steps backwards with his left foot before he pushes off with his right foot to go forward. This makes him one step late. The RB goes to the side and the LB completely whiffs on the tackle. Instead of stopping it and preventing the first down, the play becomes a TD.

Misses Tackles

Doesn't always wrap up. Tries for shoulder hits and can miss tackles when he doesn't wrap up. Hits RB on a 3rd&1 with his shoulder, but doesn't wrap up and the RB with 2nd effort picks up the first down.

Some of his shoulder and "no arm" hits, they feel like he's just being lazy, because there is no good football reason for him on that particular play to tackle in this manner. If he wants to try to cause a fumble, it would be better to try to punch the ball out or pry the ball out using his hand. Notice that Bolton has zero career forced fumbles in his stats. Instead of looking for big shoulder hits, he'd be a better player if he focused on trying to create turnovers for the defense.

Trying for kill shot, came in way out of control and too hot and completely whiffed.

Average ability to redirect to RB in tight quarters or in space. Misses multiple tackles on RB in hole. Runners can juke sideways in open space and get outside the range of his grasp as he dives and comes up with only air.

Tackles too high on some plays, grabbing RB around collar. Not disciplined and consistent with his tackling form, angles and body positioning. Should have stopped run short of first, but by going high it made his tackle weaker, RB breaks away and gets the extra yardage for first down.

Undersized and arms aren't long, so he has arm tackles that get broken.

By getting himself out of position, he ends up with weaker approach angles to the RB, causing him to yield extra yardage. Jumped to side, not able to hit RB squarely, got dragged for extra yardage resulting in 1st down.

Motor doesn't run hot. Doesn't pursue hard every play, doesn't play to whistle or run to the pile every time. Looks like maybe he gets tired, like his energy level drops at points in the game. Slow pursuing to sideline against WR screen. Assumes other defenders won't miss the tackle and eases up.

Backs Down from Challenges

Not a true thumper. Being a physical hitter doesn't make you a thumper in the box.

Doesn't take on 2nd level blockers physically, preferring to try to go around them. RB going up the middle, he's supposed to box the block and force the RB back towards the unblocked defender. Instead, he tries to duck around the wrong side of the block to go for the tackle and this nearly causes a huge run.

Too square to pulling OT, no plan to attack block and gets driven backwards 5 yards. Poor technique against climbing G, gets knocked sideways. No power against climbing G, weakly catches the blocker and gets turned 90 degrees sideways, then shoved off balance as the RB goes right through his area, bursting past them for a big gain.

No power against pulling G in hole, just weakly catches the G and gets pushed backwards.

Chickens out against center, tries to run way around the block instead of attacking it with power, ends up out of position.

Sees RB screen developing, tries to duck under WR's block, runs himself out of position.

Wide toss play, makes poor decision to try to go under block instead of fighting over the top and loses edge contain.

Ducks under block on wide zone run, gets himself out of position.

Gap run with 2 pulling OL. Bolton sheds block by TE, but does so by going under the block. This puts him at a bad angle to the RB and he doesn't have enough speed to make up the ground and beat the RB to the corner.

Pass Coverage Limitations

Man coverage vs TE down seam, lets TE get behind him, 1 yard of separation, but TE drops the pass.

Stiff hips against RBs on short routes. Can't cover RBs in man. At top of route, gives up separation when RB breaks to outside, unable to drive on it, his steps are too small. Grabs RB on double move when lined up out wide. RB fakes inside, then whips back outside, LB's hips get turned to the inside and he reaches out and grabs the RB to try to keep from being beaten.

RB freezes him on option route, tries to grab RB and gives up separation. Lead shoes at top of route trying to stay with RB.

RB leaks out of backfield up middle. LB tries to jam him with 2 hands, but RB slaps jam away and beats LB, instantly creating 2 yards of separation.

Steps in backpedal too small, doesn't gain enough depth in zone.

Confusion between the OLB and the ILB as to which defender was supposed to cover the RB. Didn't feel rub coming and had to run very wide to avoid collision, making him late to get out to flat on RB. Doesn't anticipate pick play by shallow crossing routes. Instead of jumping forward to hug up close on the WR, he gets rubbed off by the TE, creating separation for the WR.

Average as a blitzer. Lacks instincts, timing and technique to rush the QB.

Too slow on dog blitzes. Few skills or moves as pass rusher. Slipped and fell trying to change directions on blitz.

3rd down pass, he's 100% unblocked on blitz, but no speed burst, timing not good and he's too late to get to QB, unable to prevent TD pass.

Near GL, TE crosses formation and goes out to flat. LB doesn't anticipate this and is unable to get out to cover it, an easy TD.

QB rolls to the L while RB sneaks out to the R. Bolton takes 2 steps in the wrong direction before he realizes that he was duped and the RB is wide open going down the field.

Misreads Plays

Attacks the wrong hole, gets himself out of position. Aggressively attacks wrong hole when he should be patient. One play, didn't look like he was covering the right gap.

Should anticipate cutback on inside zone. Instead of stacking his blocker to cover the gap, he tries to duck to wrong side of the block, taking himself out of position. He ends up making the tackle on this play from behind, but way down the field instead of close to the LOS.

Inside zone, should be able to read hole and attack opening behind guard, but hesitates, making him late to the hole. Instead of stuffing the run on the short 3rd down, it becomes a long TD run by the RB.

Didn't anticipate cutback well and wasn't able to visually find RB timely. Another time, misreads cutback and can't make the tackle. Goes too far upfield against inside zone instead of stacking TE block, lets RB gash the defense.

Counter run, he makes terrible decision trying to attack the middle of LOS, zero chance of making that play, just takes himself out of position and loses edge contain, results in 20 yard run.

On read option, thought QB had ball and stepped in wrong direction, late to react and go back the other way as RB goes in for TD.

Late finding ball with eyes after handoff to RB, giving time for C to climb to 2nd level and seal him off, preventing lateral pursuit.

Outside zone, clear hole developing between OT and TE. LB doesn't fill the hole, passively hanging back, allowing the RB to get through it and come to him instead of attacking and stopping the RB at the LOS.

Has space in front of him to attack hole on run up middle, but just stands there, allowing the OT to turn and pick him off from the side, preventing him from tackling the RB.

Pro Comparison and Grade

Kevin Minter (2nd round 2013, Cardinals, LSU.) 4th round grade.

Nick Bolton might be "the linebacker most likely to knock you out" in this draft. His style of play makes for highlights and social media buzz. A football game, however, isn't an MMA fight or a boxing match. The goal is to try to win the game, not to send the RB and the QB to the hospital.

What is so great about Bolton that makes him a 1st round prospect? He's not good at pass coverage. He's not very fast. He misses tackles. He gets out of position. He doesn't consistently take on blocks with power. If you watch Micah Kiser's college tape side by side compared to Bolton's, Kiser is arguably the better player. Kiser was a 5th round pick. I'll be interested in seeing how Bolton's pro day testing scores and measurements compare to Kiser's combine numbers.

Bolton is NFL level strong. He's a "good enough" athlete. If you could coach him and clean up his technique, he could be an eventual starter.

An off the ball LB isn't worth drafting in the 1st round unless he's going to be an elite player. I don't think Bolton is a good enough prospect to take that early.

Of course, I could be way off and merely landed on the wrong square on my Jump to Conclusions Mat. That can happen when you have a bad case of the Mondays.