The Falcons don’t need to draft an off-ball linebacker with Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokon, and Mykal Walker under contract, but old-school thumper Nick Bolton is an intriguing prospect — in terms of complimenting attributes — if the value is right. Of course, Terry Fontenot isn’t going to consider taking Bolton with the fourth overall pick, but what if he trades back? What if Bolton falls to Atlanta in the second round? Fontenot will surely have his ducks in a row come draft night, and the former Missouri Tiger could be a different type of off-ball linebacker than Falcons fans are used to.
Bolton possesses elite ‘read and react’ skills thanks to his linear explosiveness to trigger and attack between the tackles. For me, it’s hard to evaluate how much the NFL will value Bolton. There are surely teams that will have him higher than others, depending on the defense. Those with a need for a true Mike linebacker will likely value him much more. He explodes through lanes faster than running backs and lays the wood when he gets there.
Bolton is a team leader, solid overall athlete, and fluid mover; when he flips his hips or changes direction, he does not look robotic. You can find draft analysts that view him as the second-best linebacker in the class, while others have him closer to LB10 than LB1.
Just because Bolton is an enforcer doesn’t mean he can’t drop in coverage; in fact, he’s very well-versed in zone coverage. The Mizzou product scares receivers who run crossing concepts and shows excellent man cover skills as well — able to cover running backs out of the backfield.
#Patriots draft target: Missouri LB Nick Bolton. Listed at 6-0, 232 but plays much bigger than that due to play speed and explosiveness attacking downhill.
Run D: shooting gaps, moving laterally to chase sideline-to-sideline, mirroring RBs in the trenches, slipping blockers. pic.twitter.com/cWMgceNqvZ
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 17, 2021
Was all over the place vs South Carolina few weeks ago… Fun tape highlighting lots of traits/skillsets from Nick Bolton pic.twitter.com/nDt53eUsHp
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 2, 2020
With such ferocious aggressiveness, Bolton sometimes overruns gaps or shoots the wrong gap. There’s plenty to improve upon. He sometimes finds trouble when linemen get a hold of him, struggling to get off blocks. Slightly undersized at 6’0 with only average arm length at best might lower his draft stock, but I wouldn’t hang on to those measurements because Bolton plays much bigger than his numbers indicate. With such a high football IQ, he can learn to work around his physical limitations.
Some general manager will recognize Bolton’s blend of strong athletic ability and elite football IQ and will take him with the intent to be the Mike of their defense. The Falcons have three sideline-to-sideline linebackers in Deion Jones, Mykal Walker, and Foyesade Oluokon, but no true Mike. Debo and Foye are much more natural Will linebackers, while Walker could play a pseudo-third safety in the box. Bolton’s ability to drop into coverage could allow Dean Pees to leave his base 3-4 on the field more, which isn’t necessarily in his nature. Like the way Tampa deploys their linebackers, Pees could ask them to stay on the field at all times instead of nickel safeties. Bolton and Debo inside off-ball, while Walker and Foye play more of a box safety hybrid that can drift out into the slot. Selecting Bolton could eventually lead to the Falcons not having to pay Oluokon either.
Photographer: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire