When the Kansas City Chiefs selected Nick Bolton in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft we chose our heir apparent to our Mike Linebacker, our “Green Dot”, our new defensive center point.
You can argue that Bolton was drafted to help an aging, un-athletic LB corps, but the truth is Veech knew he was drafting the replacement for Anthony Hitchens. The writing was on the wall for incumbent Hitchens, and the Chiefs were looking for him to take an Alex Smith role. A mentor to a young player that he knew would replace him, and give Hitchens credit. He stood up and did exactly that. Bolton’s rapid comfort in the system was obvious.
And if you want to see it for yourself, watch the first game against the LA Chargers vs the second game. It’s like watching two very separate versions of the same person.
Anthony Hitchens was often criticized for his lack of athleticism. In today’s game, the sideline-to-sideline speed is required, and too often, we would watch Hitchens just not have that gear. When we acquired Hitchens in 2018 in free agency he was a bright spot of a struggling defense recording a career-high 135 tackles.
After that, the speed of the game caught up to him, and his stats have continuously declined.
As we know about GM Brett Veech, he doesn’t do anything halfway. In 2020, he used a 2nd round pick on LB Willie Gay Jr. whose athleticism was noticed immediately.
Veech completed the revamp of the middle defense with the Bolton selection. Gay and Bolton together for the near future should create a headache for opposing offenses.
Bolton was slated to be a Round 2 or 3 draft pick, he wasn’t considered a reach for the Chiefs. In addition, any Chiefs fans that were displeased with the pick were surprised with an outstanding rookie season from our newest linebacker. 70 tackles, 42 assisted tackles, and 112 combined leading all rookies in all categories. If you were watching the Chiefs, you noticed Nick Bolton was on almost every play.
The comparison for Nick Bolton goes back to the last great middle linebacker, Derrick Johnson. We drafted Johnson 15th overall in 2005. He was the pillar of our defense for 13 seasons. He played inside, outside, coverage, and blitzed. From the start, Johnson showed us how he would be a leader on the defense. His rookie season looked similar to Bolton’s, 80 solo tackles, 16 assisted tackles, and 96 combined.
There is a difference in the supporting cast. On that 2005 team, Johnson had very little support. He had Jared Allen and Kawika Mitchell. Therefore, the brunt of the defense fell on his shoulders and he succeeded. Bolton while having top players in Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu made his presence felt and stood out on the defense.
In his rookie season, Bolton showed flashes of violence, and energy, something has lacked in previous Chiefs defenses in the Mahomes era. While his stats stand out, watching the film he was involved in every play. He rarely missed tackles and if he had a hand on you, he was taking you down.
The argument could be made that if it wasn’t for phenom Micah Parsons, Bolton would have had a strong argument for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. But Micah Parsons was a freak and earned the honor.
The Kansas City Chiefs have to be excited for what is to come. Bolton, Gay, Reid, Jones, and Sneed. Our defense can be imposing for the next few years.