In recent years, there have been a number of off-ball linebackers selected on Day 2 of the NFL Draft who have gone on to make an immediate impact in IDP leagues. In 2018 alone, the draft brought us Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts (Round 2) and Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers (Round 3), both of whom finished as weekly starters as rookies.
Finding such a Day 2 gem is no sure bet for NFL teams (or IDP managers). But in the Class of 2021, one off-ball linebacker who demonstrated the ability to light up the stat sheet at the collegiate level is Missouri’s Nick Bolton.
All the 6’0″, 235-pounder from Frisco, Texas did over the past two seasons was lead the SEC in tackles two years running. In 2019, Bolton piled up 107 stops (74 solo) with 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a pair of interceptions. Last year, it was 95 total tackles (55 solo), eight tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery.
An instinctive and tough linebacker who was one of college football’s more punishing hitters, Bolton was ranked by Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus as the third-best off-ball linebacker in this class—ahead of Zaven Collins of Tulsa.
“Bolton won’t have the length and won’t have the high-end measurables,” Renner said. “What he will have is the production and all the intangibles you could ask for. The Missouri linebacker led the SEC in stops each of the past two regular seasons. He’s the highest-graded linebacker after Parsons over the past two seasons. All he does is make plays. Oh, and light dudes up.”
“Just how good is Bolton? Imagine Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan with more thump,” they said. “Bolton is a super physical WILL linebacker who 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. Technically speaking, Bolton stays square while working laterally, always remaining in a sound tackling position while working downhill. His instincts are fantastic.”
“There’s little questioning his effort and motor,” Crabbs said. “Bolton is a high-energy player who flashes constantly as a rally defender who can find the football on extended plays to help rally and finish plays. When he’s working inside the box, he’ll charge and take on OL or lead blockers with authority, effectively plugging up a block and forcing the ball carrier to bounce and get off the designated track. His explosiveness allows him to set the tone with his pads and forcibly reset the LOS.”