NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings: No. 5 – Nick Bolton, Missouri

He's not big and he's not fast, but Missouri's Nick Bolton is an impact linebacker and a potential early draft pick for the Green Bay Packers.
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The Green Bay Packers have a promising young tandem at inside linebacker with last year’s rookie duo of undrafted Krys Barnes and fifth-round pick Kamal Martin. While they had solid debut seasons, can either become a legit difference-maker? Can either be even on par with Blake Martinez? Regardless of the top of the depth chart, the Packers are a man down after releasing veteran Christian Kirksey.

Missouri’s Nick Bolton is our No. 5-ranked prospect.

Nick Bolton’s path to the NFL has been paved by his family.

His father, Carlos, played linebacker at Louisiana Tech. Starting in first grade, Nick and his father would watch game film. From an early age, Nick Bolton showed tremendous instincts. Those instincts are his calling card today as a top linebacker prospect in this year’s draft.

“I’ve been proud of Nick ever since he stepped on Missouri’s campus,” Carlos Bolton told the Maneater, Missouri’s school newspaper. “He’s been chasing this dream for a long time. To see him play up to his ability, it makes me proud every day.”

His mom tackled breast cancer. His sister had a brain tumor, which left her with vision problems and robbed her of her own college athletics career.

“It gives you perspective on everything you do,” Bolton told The Athletic. “Most people take for granted driving, and she can’t drive anymore. So living her dreams through me is a blessing.”

Pushed too far by the University of Washington during the recruiting process, the native of Frisco, Texas, stayed closer to home and signed with Missouri. The Tigers were rewarded with a pair of all-conference seasons.

In an impressive draft class of off-the-ball linebackers, Bolton stands out for reasons that are the opposite of the other premier candidates. Unlike Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, who stands almost 6-foot-5, Bolton checks in shy of 6-foot. Unlike Penn State’s Micah Parsons, Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Kentucky’s Jamin Davis, he’s a rather mediocre athlete with a 40 time that barely broke 4.6 seconds.

Those instincts, honed during countless hours with his father, have allowed Bolton to maximize his tools. Carlos would show him video of legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, who was renowned for calling out plays before they started.

“Everybody has a preferred tight end they want to run to,” Bolton said. “Just kind of studying those nuances and trying to see if I can catch a couple hints on film, hopefully they show up on game day.”

In 22 career starts, Bolton recorded 202 tackles, including 16.5 tackles for losses. He went from three-star prospect to one of the best players in the best conference in college football. Rather than opting out and letting his 2019 game film speak for his 2021 draft credentials, Bolton started all 10 games for the Tigers, who haven’t had a linebacker even drafted since 2016.

“Between the white lines you’ve got to show everybody you can be the player that you thought you could be,” Bolton told The Athletic. “A lot of Power 5 schools, a lot of schools even in our own conference, didn’t believe that I was tall enough, that I was fast enough, that I was able to play at this caliber.”

Measureables: 5-foot-11 1/8, 237 pounds. 4.59 40, 4.50 shuttle, 32 vertical, 24 bench-press reps.

Stats and accolades: Bolton was first-team all-SEC in each of his final two seasons, including capturing second-team All-American honors in 2020. In 10 starts, he had 95 tackles, including two sacks and 7.5 for losses, plus five passes defensed. Both career interceptions came in 2019 and he oddly never forced a fumble. While not gifted with incredible physical traits, he allowed merely 3.0 yards per target and a 45 percent catch rate the past two seasons, according to Sports Info Solutions. He missed a whopping 18 tackles in 2020, a missed-tackle rate of 16 percent that was double that of 2019.

NFL Draft Bible says: Just how good is Bolton? Imagine Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan with more thump. Bolton is surprisingly physical for a man his size and length. He fills like a tank, meeting offensive linemen at the point of attack, stacking and shedding with a high success rate. When he’s able to square up ball-carriers, Bolton is a vicious hitter, putting together a highlight reel of massive shots. Bolton has great feel in the passing game, quickly locating zones and working with urgency. He is a very smooth athlete that is able to unlock his hips and redirect in space, as well as playing some man coverage in a pinch. His instincts are fantastic. The huge downfall for Bolton’s game is a lack of length that can cause some shortcomings. In the run game, he possesses a small tackle radius to make plays outside his frame. In pass coverage, his length can cause him to miss out on some opportunities at the catch point and closing passing windows.

About This Series

Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position.

LB1: Penn State's Micah Parsons

LB2: Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

LB3: Tulsa's Zaven Collins

LB4: Kentucky's Jamin Davis

LB5: Missouri's Nick Bolton

DT1: Alabama's Christian Barmore

DT2: Washington's Levi Onwuzurike

DT3: UCLA's Osa Odighizuwa

DT4: Louisiana Tech's Milton Williams

DT5: Iowa's Dayvion Nixon

OT1: Oregon's Penei Sewell

OT2: Northwestern Rashawn Slater

OT3: Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw

OT4: Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins

OT5: Texas' Samuel Cosmi

OG1: USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker

OG2: Ohio State's Wyatt Davis

OG3: Tennessee's Trey Smith

OG4: Alabama's Alex Leatherwood

OG5: Illinois' Kendrick Green

OC1: Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey

OC2: UW-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz

OC3: Ohio State’s Josh Myers

OC4: Alabama’s Landon Dickerson

OC5: Pittsburgh’s Jimmy Morrissey

WR1: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase

WR2: Alabama’s DeVonta Smith

WR3: Florida’s Kadarius Toney

WR4: Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman

WR5: LSU’s Terrace Marshall

RB1: Alabama’s Najee Harris

RB2: Clemson’s Travis Etienne

RB3: North Carolina’s Javonte Williams

RB4: Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell

RB5: North Carolina’s Michael Carter

QB1: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence

QB2: Ohio State’s Justin Fields

QB3: BYU’s Zach Wilson

QB4: North Dakota State’s Trey Lance

QB5: Alabama’s Mac Jones