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Contextualizing Chiefs LB Nick Bolton’s impressive rookie season

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Kansas City Chiefs rookie LB Nick Bolton turned some heads during the 2021 NFL season.

A second-round draft pick in the 2021 NFL draft, selected at No. 58 overall, Bolton is coming off of a dominant rookie campaign where he exceeded all expectations. He was awarded NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for October off the back of an impressive three-game stretch, including a 15-tackle single-game performance against the Tennessee Titans. He was also recently named the team’s Mack Lee Hill Award Rookie of the Year winner, voted on by his coaches and teammates.

Bolton led the Chiefs’ defense with 112 tackles and 10 tackles for loss this season, breaking the franchise record for the most by a rookie in a single season. Bolton became only the ninth rookie to hit those marks in the past 21 NFL seasons. Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard is the most recent player to have over 100 tackles and 10 tackles for loss as a rookie and he did so back in 2018.

As a rookie, Leonard racked up 163 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. However, the big difference between Bolton and Leonard’s rookie campaigns is opportunity. Bolton started just 12 games for Kansas City compared to Leonard’s 16 games started. The former Missouri Tiger also played 332 fewer defensive snaps as a rookie than Leonard did as a rookie. Let’s say Bolton had started all 17 possible regular-season games this season. If he continued producing at the rate he did in his 12 starts, he would have finished the season with around 153 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.

Now, some people will look at this and point to Steve Spagnuolo in frustration. The truth is that Bolton had some growing to do throughout the 2021 NFL season. He finished out the regular season and postseason as strong as ever as a result. From Week 14 onward, Bolton received a 60 or higher grade from Pro Football Focus. His coverage grade improved significantly during that span, only once dipping below 50.

Chiefs fans should be excited to know that Bolton will almost certainly get more playing time in Kansas City in 2022. If he can keep up the momentum that he established late in the season and in the postseason, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. He’s likely to put up even bigger numbers than he did as a rookie.

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