GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers under Brian Gutekunst and his predecessor, Ted Thompson, simply have not put much of an emphasis on the linebacker position.
In 2006, Thompson used his first-round pick on A.J. Hawk and his third-round pick on Abdul Hodge. Only once in the last 14 drafts have the Packers used a pick in the first 125 selections on a linebacker, a swing and a miss on Oren Burks on the third round in 2018.
Nonetheless, NFL.com’s Peter Schrager selected Missouri’s Nick Bolton in his latest mock draft.
“Joe Barry is the new DC and his specialty is LB play,” Schrager writes in his summation. “I'm not sure GB's defense didn't miss Blake Martinez roaming the middle in big games last year. Bolton isn't going to jump off the page with eye-popping athleticism, but everyone says he'll be the QB of whichever defense he joins.”
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Bolton is a fascinating prospect. At 5-foot-11, he’s not big. With a 4.59 in the 40 and a 4.50 in the 20-yard shuttle, he’s not supremely athletic.
What Bolton was at Missouri was supremely productive.
In starting all 22 games the past two seasons, Bolton registered 202 tackles, three sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses, 15 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He was first-team all-SEC both seasons and earned some All-American honors in 2020, when he finished second in the draft class in tackles per game.
Pro Football Focus compared Bolton to three-time Pro Bowler Navorro Bowman. It’s a solid comparison. At the 2010 Scouting Combine, Bowman measured 6-foot 1/4 and 242 pounds. He ran his 40 in 4.70 and his shuttle in 4.59. So, while many of the league’s premier off-the-ball linebackers are excellent athletes, it’s not a prerequisite.
According to Sports Info Solutions, among off-the-ball linebackers in the draft class, Bolton ranked second in pressure rate, fourth in tackles for losses per game, first in tackle share (percentage of the team’s tackles), second in yards per target in the passing game and fourth in passes broken up per game.