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Can Nick Bolton Be a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in 2023?

How great can Nick Bolton be in 2023?

(Photo by: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Since Nick Bolton has entered the league, he has been one of the most complete linebackers across the NFL.

In the 2022 NFL season, Bolton recorded two sacks, 180 total tackles (108 solo) now the franchise’s single-season best record, two interceptions, three passes defended, and one forced fumble. He finished second in the NFL in combined and solo tackles in the 2022 season despite not earning any Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors but led the Chiefs to win Super Bowl 57 vs the Eagles with nine tackles and scored a defensive touchdown on a fumble from Jalen Hurts.  He is a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate because he fills up the defensive stat sheet in so many ways. Bolton had nine games with 10 or more tackles in 2022, marking the most 10+-tackle games in a single-season in Chiefs history.

In fact, According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler’s annual survey of NFL executives, coaches and players regarding the NFL’s top-10 linebackers. Nick Bolton is ranked fifth overall after going unranked a season ago. Ultimately he landed at No. 8 with a note by an anonymous NFC scout.

“For me it’s the instincts,” the NFC scout told Fowler. “You see the [ability to] diagnose, the trigger and obviously play speed and physicality on contact. I think he’s going to continue his ascension as a stacked playmaker.”

It’s my opinion, but the play of Nick Bolton has benefited the Chiefs well, who won’t have to worry about Bolton being ready for 2023. Coupled with the offseason addition of defensive linemen Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Charles Omenihu (who is now suspended for 6 games), B.J. Thompson and Keondre Coburn, who will now demand attention from and is the kind of impact player who will keep Bolton free to make more plays, expect to see “The Bolt” run wild like Chris Jones did in 2022 finishing top 3 in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. Bolton has the opportunity to do something that even Derrick Johnson wasn’t ever to do. Become the first Chiefs player to win Defensive Player of the Year.

If both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are the bread and butter of the offense, then Steve Spagnuolo and Nick Bolton are both that for the defense, but much will be expected from them if the Chiefs hope to become a top 5 defense after finishing the 11th best defense in the NFL. The Chiefs were 27th in that rank in 2021. Since drafting him in 2021, Bolton has been the tackling machine and perfect fit for the 4-3 scheme Spagnuolo uses. Bolton pairs with Willie Gay and now Drue Tranquill to give the Chiefs one of the most active LB trios in the league and they should be prime forces. Spags will use Gay as the aggressor at the line of scrimmage.  When the ball is snapped, he will attack the lead blocker to blow up the play.  This allows Bolton to flow behind Gay and make the sure tackle on the ball carrier.

The old saying that “defense wins championships” stirs up images of the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The two catalyst of those teams were Dick Butkus and Ray Lewis. I believe that Nick Bolton has the makings of those players for the Chiefs. The linebackers will be a solid group, because of their leader who is built like the classic middle linebacker yet can cover like a safety.  With his versatility, Bolton can line up close to the line of scrimmage and cover tight ends.  In sub-packages, this allows Gay and maybe on occasion Tranquill to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback without having to worry about coverage responsibilities. One thing fans will take into consideration the play of Chris Jones. Bolton is a tackling machine, and he can thank Jones for most of them. The big star defensive tackle can occupy two or three blockers a play, allowing Bolton the freedom to run free and make tackles.  If Jones is single blocked, he will make the play.

However, the absence of Jones, the Chiefs reigning Defensive Player of the Year candidate might not hurt the defense, but look for George Karlaftis to have a breakout season in his place lining up all over the field. Also, the version of the 4-3 defense the Chiefs run is designed for defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi and rookie Keondre Coburn to eat up the blocks of the center and both guards.  This allows free gaps for Bolton and Gay to attack and get to the ball carrier.

Final Thoughts:

Bolton remains one of the best acquisitions of Andy Reid and Brett Veach’s tenures with the Chiefs. The Chiefs selected Bolton in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he has been a starter in every one of the team’s games since. Bolton’s unique combination of physicality and instincts makes him one of the few linebackers in the league capable of being a difference-maker in coverage and against the run just like Derrick Johnson. When you see that Nick Bolton is 5’11” and 230 pounds, you don’t expect the third-year veteran to be a stud against the run. But he is. Bolton recorded 108 tackles his 17 starts last year while proving that instincts, speed and leverage will win the day against big inside blockers. The former Mizzou Tiger star has made himself into one of the league’s best run-stuffing linebackers in the Chiefs’ 4-3 scheme. Bolton was almost perfect as a tackler in 2022, notching those 108 solo tackles while missing just ten attempts all year. He’s powerful when he meets the ball-carrier and was a blue-chip tackler in space against the pass. You could make the case for Bolton not only as an All-Pro candidate but as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on last season’s play and you can bet he’ll be motivated to ball out in a title-defense year in 2023 before a contract year comes in 2024.

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