As the NFL Draft approaches rapidly, the Dallas Cowboys still have a lot of holes to fill for 2021 and beyond. The defense needs help both at the top of the depth chart and depth options as well. They need players that can step in and help the defense right away, like a first round cornerback. And they need players that will be ready to play in the middle of the season or in 2022 when several players might hit free agency.
One such position that seems settled at the moment but really isn't is the linebacker spot. Jaylon Smith was great in 2018 but has only been solid to average since. He's showing difficulty changing direction and at times gets caught trying to do to much in the running game. With some improved defensive tackle play, perhaps Smith can return to the player he was in 2018, but that remains to be seen.
Leighton Vander Esch similarly played great in his rookie season, but has dropped off the last two seasons as injuries have limited him and taken a toll on his play. Vander Esch has missed 13 games the last two seasons combined and if his neck continues to be a problem, could lead to more missed time. It's unlikely that the Dallas Cowboys will pick up Vander Esch's fully guaranteed fifth-year option, which would be for about $9 million because of the uncertainty of his health. However, at such a low price, they could take a gamble that Vander Esch stays healthy and provides that level of play.
This is why there has been a lot of talk about drafting a linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Cowboys have both short and long-term needs at the position. Names like Micah Parsons and Zaven Collins have dominated the Dallas Cowboys linebacker draft discussions, but one name that isn't getting enough discussion is Missouri Linebacker Nick Bolton.
Bolton is a fast and explosive run and hit linebacker that amassed more than 100 tackles in 2019 for the Missouri Tigers, including 8.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. He also added two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. In the COVID-19 shortened season of 2020, Bolton collected 95 total tackles and another eight tackles for loss. This time he had two sacks to his ledger.
Bolton would be a good fit for the Dallas Cowboys as a weakside linebacker, a role currently projected to feature Keanu Neal. Bolton comes in just over 230 pounds, but has really good strength and straight line speed.
As you can see from the spider chart below provided by Mockdraftable.com, Bolton struggled in the agility drills, the 20-yard shuttle and the 3-cone drill. However, he was excellent in the 40-yard dash and the bench press, while scoring above average in the broad jump.
Bolton's type of speed and explosion allows him an opportunity to get down hill quickly. Despite his smaller stature, his strength prevents him from getting swallowed up in the running game.
The Cowboys will be looking at linebacker at some point in the draft. As they focus their attention on cornerback at pick 10, Bolton could be a player that is considered in the second or third round for the Dallas Cowboys.
As the Dallas Cowboys look to help the defense improve for 2021, they have to find some linebacker help that can step in and make plays in both the running and passing game if either of the two projected starters were expected to miss time. Nick Bolton's speed and explosiveness would be a welcomed addition to a linebacker group that has struggled to keep up with the running backs and tight ends of the NFL.