The Future: 2021 NFL Draft Prospects Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton has a pro-ready build at 6'0, 232lbs and it shows up on tape where he can deliver some massive hits. He's a solid athlete where he was able to run a 4.60 40 yard dash at his pro day and moves well when moving laterally against the run. He is very strong attacking downfield, between the tackles, and when he can play zone coverage and again attack downhill on shallow routes. There's still room for improvement in pass coverage. I wouldn't ask him to play man coverage often and he can also develop his ability to play in space. I consider him to be a "slasher" where he can consistently shoot gaps and meet runners in the backfield.
Tackling- Bolton is a physical, violent tackler. He has made some very big, jarring hits. He has solid size, is slightly undersized with his height in my opinion but he knows how to bring the ball carrier to the ground. There are times where he tries to just make a massive hit and hit with his shoulder instead of wrapping up so I would like to see him be more consistent with his ability to wrap up. His burst to shot gaps and move laterally is fantastic to make plays in the backfield.
Ball Skills- When in zone coverage he does an excellent job of reading the quarterback's eyes and playing underneath coverage to make a play on the ball. This is where he can make some jarring hits that remove the ball from the receiver. His ability to play the ball when in man coverage needs development.
Athletic Ability- He has good speed to play sideline to sideline and run with tight ends up the seam. His burst and explosiveness are good to shoot gaps. He has the athletic ability to play off-ball linebacker in the NFL.
Pass Coverage- This is the area of his game that needs the most development if he wants to be a three-down backer in the NFL. He possesses the athletic ability to drop and play man coverage with running backs and tight ends. In zone, he does an excellent job of coming downhill on shallow routes. His hip flexibility is solid to drop and run against seam routes but in the end, he is better at zone than man and again I wouldn't ask him to play man often at the beginning of his career.
Run Defending- This is the best part of his game. He is very aggressive in shooting gaps/open lanes which results in tackles for losses but also missed angles due to a little being too aggressive. He needs to work on his ability to work over the top on runs to the outside but runs between the tackles he is all over. He knows how to work through traffic and find the ball carrier. Again I'd like to see him wrap up more consistently, instead of just trying to deliver the big shoulder hit all the time.
Block Deconstruction- His size can make it difficult to get off of blocks. His arms aren't long enough to get the initial contact against linemen so often the blockers can get into his body and control him. He needs to improve on his ability to use his hands instead of his shoulders to make that initial pop. There are reps where he does use his hands first and has shown the ability to get off of the blocker but it doesn't show up enough.
Lateral Mobility- He is a very good athlete, especially with his ability to move from numbers to numbers against the run game. He can make blockers miss with his lateral quickness but he is better at coming downfield to attack rather than moving side to side.
Leadership- He was the team captain and leader of the defense at Missouri and he was often caught directing his teammates to be in the right spot and telling them what to do.
Versatility- He isn't the most versatile backer in this class. As of now, he is a run defender first with limited pass coverage ability but he has the room to develop into a three-down backer who can play both man and zone.
Pass Rush/Blitz- He is very good at blitzing on 3rd down and obvious passing situation and this is where his three-down ability comes in to play. He has very good timing and knows how to find open gaps in the offensive line. When blitzing he is aggressive but needs to do a better job of using his hands to get off of blockers.