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Todd McShay mock draft: Chiefs go with local flavor at linebacker

In his mock draft released late last week, the ESPN analyst had Kansas City selecting Mizzou linebacker Nick Bolton in the first round.

ESPN NFL college/draft analyst Todd McShay released version 2.0 of his 2021 mock draft last Thursday. McShay included two trades in his latest mock — at No. 2 (Panthers trade-up) and at No. 9 (49ers trade-up.

At the No. 31 draft position, McShay sent a local linebacker to the Kansas City Chiefs.

31. Kansas City Chiefs: Nick Bolton, ILB, Missouri

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive line might be the move (perhaps Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield or Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins), and the defensive back group is also accepting reinforcements. But this pick offers great value and brings a fast, versatile matchup component to the second level of the defense to pair with Anthony Hitchens. Bolton is a tackling machine with great instincts and solid coverage ability.

Adam Teicher on his fit with the Chiefs: Bolton would fit the pattern, as the Chiefs have tried to become more athletic at linebacker. He might not be a regular immediately — defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is demanding of rookies — but he should eventually be an upgrade in an area where the Chiefs have struggled.

Given the Chiefs have greater needs at other positions, the idea of them taking a linebacker with their top pick feels somewhat questionable. The Chiefs are due to lose one starter at linebacker in Damien Wilson, but they just selected a linebacker in the second round last year in Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr. His season ended early when he tore his meniscus in practice leading up to Super Bowl LV.

Aside from Gay, there are five other linebackers currently on the roster: Anthony Hitchens, Dorian O’Daniel, Darius Harris, Emmanuel Smith and Omari Cobb. Ben Niemann is a restricted free agent.

Let’s check in with our draft team to evaluate his potential fit with the Chiefs:

Thoughts from the AP Draft Team (Craig Stout)

Bolton is a terrific athlete that has the desired density, intelligence and aggression to play in a Steve Spagnuolo scheme. He is incredible explosive and plays behind the line of scrimmage often, something that the Chiefs have lacked in their regular rotation over the past several years. Bolton was not tasked often in coverage — especially in 2020, as primarily a hook zone dropper — but could develop those instincts with some coaching from Spagnuolo and Matt House.

Unfortunately for our site’s Mizzou fans, Bolton may not make as much sense in the first round for the Chiefs. While he would certainly become an athletic upgrade to Anthony Hitchens in 2022 and beyond, his year-one contribution may look similar to those of Willie Gay Jr. Bolton would likely be relegated to base downs only as develops his route recognition and coverage ability. While he’d be a fearsome defender in that role, it would only be about 25% of the snaps in year one. He’d be a terrific fit moving forward as the MIKE linebacker in 2022, but the Chiefs may see other positions that need addressing early.

Highlights

The Chiefs are projected for eight picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday, April 29.

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