Saints 2021 Draft Prospects: Nick Bolton

Once upon a time, Sam Mills went from an undersized and overlooked linebacker into one of the best players in New Orleans franchise history.  This SEC defender has slipped slightly because of his height, but shares some similar traits of being a defensive centerpiece.
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New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis has developed into one of the NFL's best defensive players since signing with the team as a free agent in 2018. The 32-Yr old Davis, a nine-year veteran, has led his squad in tackles for the last three seasons. He is a devastating blitzer and standout in coverage, along with being an elite sideline-to-sideline defender.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) tackles Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33). Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) tackles Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33). Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The challenge for the Saints as they enter the 2021 NFL draft is finding quality complements to Davis at linebacker. Kwon Alexander was an outstanding addition in 2020, but he suffered an Achilles injury and was released in the offseason. Alex Anzalone departed in free agency to Detroit. Versatile veteran reserve Craig Robertson remains unsigned.

The team has high hopes for the development of Zack Baun, a 3rd round choice last year. Former 7th round pick Kaden Elliss and UDFA Chase Hansen will also be in the mix for playing time. Alexander could also be brought back on a less expensive contract, but many expect the Saints to add a linebacker in this year's draft.

One player to watch closely is the subject of today's draft profile. A tackling machine who is guaranteed to be selected by the second day and possibly even sneak late into the first round.

NICK BOLTON, LINEBACKER (MISSOURI)

6’0” 232-Lbs.

Pro Day 40m = 4.6 

Pro Day Vertical Jump = 32"

NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):

Denzel Perryman (Panthers)

Bolton chose Missouri after being a 1st team all-state selection as a senior at Lone Star (TX) High School. He had 22 tackles and a sack in 13 games as a true freshman off the bench in 2018.

Bolton started every contest for the Tigers in 2019. He led the SEC in total tackles and led his team with 8.5 tackles for loss, also recording 2 interceptions, a sack, and breaking up 8 passes while scoring once. He was voted 1st team All-SEC.

Repeating All-SEC honors in 2020, Bolton was also named 2nd team All-American and was a Butkus Award finalist. Again he led Missouri in tackles and notched a team-high 8 stops for loss. He added 2 sacks, broke up 5 passes, and recovered a fumble.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) is tackled by Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32). Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY 

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) is tackled by Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32). Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY 

Considered a little short for a linebacker, Bolton can get engulfed by a taller blocker in the gap. He doesn't have great speed in the open field and will have to take better angles in pursuit to avoid getting beat to the edge. Won't offer much as a pass rusher, but he can be effective on delayed blitzes.

His height can be a disadvantage against taller tight ends in coverage. Can have stiff and robotic change of direction in the open field. His lack of recovery speed means that he needs to rely on anticipation to put himself in a position to make plays.

Florida Gators running back Dameon Pierce (27) runs the ball as Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32) defends. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY

Florida Gators running back Dameon Pierce (27) runs the ball as Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32) defends. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY

Bolton makes up for his lack of height and blazing speed by having remarkable vision and anticipation. He recognizes run schemes quickly and beats blockers to the spot to short-circuit the play. Has terrific short area quickness and the burst to explode through a gap into the backfield.

Bolton shows great instincts in zone coverage. He has a natural feel for positioning, reads the quarterback well, and makes an aggressive play on the ball. Has enough man coverage ability to stay with some tight ends and diagnoses screens well enough to get in position quickly.

Can sift through traffic effectively in pursuit and won't slow down until the whistle blows. Bolton can expertly identify misdirection and delivers intimidating hits as a tackler. He is rarely caught out of position and has the football IQ to handle play-calling duties.

Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32) gets ready to defend against the Georgia Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY 

Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton (32) gets ready to defend against the Georgia Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY 

Nick Bolton doesn't jump off the page with his athleticism, but he always puts himself in a position to make plays. His best fit at the NFL level will be inside. He’s an old-school throwback with excellent leadership qualities and physical pursuit. He has a high floor as a prospect with little chance of being a bust. His football intelligence, field vision, and natural instincts gives him the upside of a middle linebacker able to stay on the field in any situation.