The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off their best defensive performance of the 2022 season: their 24-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. All three levels of the defense played well, with standout performances from several players — including linebacker Nick Bolton.
Bolton set a career-high in tackles with 17, bringing his season total to 155 tackles. That ranks third in the NFL, just seven behind the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Foyesade Oluokun. In solo tackles, he leads the league.
Bolton’s high level of play has not gone unnoticed by his coaches. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo credits Bolton’s intelligence and instincts — which he likens to former New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was a part of the Spagnuolo defense that upset the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
“Nick has a tremendous feel for the game,” noted Spagnuoulo on Thursday. “There’s a lot of times when it’s drawn up a certain way going into the week — and it changes on him really quick. He can adjust [to that].”
Bolton has been the Chiefs’ defensive signal caller all season — his first year in the role as the team’s MIKE linebacker. Linebackers coach Brendan Daly has been impressed by Bolton’s leadership and quick ability to take on the new role.
“It’s very natural for him,” said Daly. “It doesn’t phase him. He does an excellent job communicating even when we get thrown into it.”
Daly compared Bolton to Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, whom Daly coached during his tenure as a defensive assistant with the Patriots.
“The football IQ is the thing that stands out,” explained Daly. “All of these guys operate at an extremely high level in terms of understanding the game, understanding the defense, understanding the nuances of calls and adjustments”
All of this has translated into an outstanding season for the second-year pro, who has been remarkably consistent at one of the most physical positions on the field. He’s now played over 950 snaps this season — nearly 98% of Kansas City’s defensive snaps.
Head coach Andy Reid has praised Bolton’s tackling ability all season, often referring to the player as having an All-Pro season. But despite Bolton’s increased level of play and high marks, he was not awarded with a Pro Bowl nod for the AFC roster.
This is something that Bolton could use for motivation — a chip on the young player’s shoulder — but the Chiefs have made it clear: they are not playing the Pro Bowl or individual honors. They are playing for February’s much bigger prize: the Super Bowl.
Bolton’s strong play (and leadership) will be needed as the defense strives to continue improving as the team heads for the posteason.