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Can Nick Bolton's Second-Year Jump Meet Sky-High Expectations?

Nick Bolton had an exceptional rookie season, leading the team in tackles, but he could have an even better follow-up season as his playing time increases.

It’s that rare time of year when things are a little bit slow in the NFL world. A golf match has been the highlight of this past week in NFL news. With that being said, it’s time to start a third year of the second-year jump series.

This is a series that will take you through the Kansas City Chiefs' 2021 class of draft picks to see how they did in their rookie year and how likely it is that they make a second-year jump in year two. Since the Chiefs traded their first-round pick for Orlando Brown Jr. last year, their first selection was near the end of the second round. We’ll start there, with the local linebacker out of Mizzou.

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54) after the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2, Pick 58: Nick Bolton, Linebacker, Missouri

In a surprising move to many in Chiefs Kingdom, general manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs used their first selection on Nick Bolton, a linebacker from Missouri. It was the second year in a row the Chiefs took a linebacker in the second round.

It seemed like this was an obvious move to get younger and more athletic on the defensive side of the ball. Anthony Hitchens looked a step slower and taking Bolton where they did seemed like a move for a future Hitchens replacement.

Bolton did a fantastic job in his rookie season for Kansas City. He played in every game and started in 12 — considerably more than many people anticipated, especially considering how slowly the team brought fellow linebacker Willie Gay Jr. along the previous year.

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Bolton’s numbers were very impressive as well. He led the team with 70 solo tackles and 42 assisted tackles for a combined 112 total tackles on the season. The next closest was Hitchens, with 80 total tackles.

Bolton also had 11 tackles for loss, three passes defended and a fumble recovery. The fumble recovery, which Bolton returned for a touchdown, was a huge play and turning point in the game that became a Chiefs victory in Denver against the Broncos, extending the team's winning streak against their division rival.

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54) returns a fumble for a touchdown as safety Daniel Sorensen (49) looks back in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

So how can Bolton improve his game and make that second-year jump? For starters, Hitchens was released and now Bolton is likely going to be the signal-caller for the Chiefs defense. He will have even more opportunities to make plays, and there’s a good chance his numbers will be even better in 2022.

Bolton and Gay could become a dynamic linebacker duo for the Chiefs. Their style of play compliments each other very well, and that should lead to more success, not just individually, but for the team as a whole. The Chiefs also added a couple of linebackers through the draft and undrafted free agency, and it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilizes the new guys in the mix. No matter who plays alongside him, Bolton will be the featured player in the middle of the defense for the foreseeable future.

Oct 10, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (50) celebrates with outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54) after a play against the Buffalo Bills during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it’s only been one season, Bolton showed enough to give us the impression that he can be the next great Chiefs linebacker. His snap count will increase in year two and his productivity should climb as his playing time increases.

I’m looking for a nice second-year jump from Nick Bolton. The Mizzou product is primed to be a team leader, and his value to the organization will continue to rise. 

Read More: Nick Bolton in "Constant Communication" With Anthony Hitchens