Mizzou’s 2020 Positional Breakdowns: Linebacker

NICK BOLTON , NICK BOLTON , NICK BOLTON, NICK BOLTON, NICK BOLTON!!

Nick Bolton is the best linebacker in the country (unless you prefer Micah Parsons, but here we support Mr. Bolton) and that is why a whole line was dedicated to him to start this story! Bolton and Cale Garrett formed the best linebacker duo in the country before Garrett suffered a season-ending injury.

After’s Garrett’s injury Bolton didn’t slow down and played even better. Bolton’s play made Mizzou one of the best defensive units and is why the linebacker position group is the most exciting position group on the entire roster.

WLB1: Nick Bolton- 6’0, 232 lbs (Jr.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 12

Total Tackles: 107

Interceptions: 2

There needs to be a completely separate article dedicated to Nick Bolton to rave about what a fantastic player that he is, but for now, a few paragraphs will have to do. Bolton’s play was so terrific that Pro Football Focus named him Third Team All-American. SEC coaches were well aware of Bolton’s prowess and voted him First-Team All-SEC.

Bolton’s best ability is his IQ. Time in and time out Bolton is where he needs to be on the field. Rarely ever do you see Bolton going into the wrong hole or lost on the field. That skillset is evident with Bolton leading the Tigers in total tackles at 107. Bolton was the SEC-leading tackler at 8.92 per game last year.

Playing as a weak-side linebacker, Bolton is expected to drop back in coverage on a lot of plays. Bolton was excellent in coverage which lead him to have two interceptions, one that went back for a touchdown, and to have 10 passes deflected.

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When you watch the Tigers play Bolton sticks out immediately. Going into the 2020 season there is a lot of hype and expectations for the rising junior out of Frisco, Texas. Pro Football Focus ranks Bolton as the #2 Linebacker in the 2021 NFL draft going into this year. If Bolton has an even better year than last, he could easily play himself into a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.

WLB2: Jamal Brooks- 6’1, 230 lbs (Sr.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 12

Total Tackles: 21

Interceptions: 0

Brooks has been a solid contributor for the Tigers since his freshman year. Brooks has already played in 37 career games going into his senior year. Unfortunately, Brooks has been behind guys like Cale Garrett and more recently Nick Bolton since he’s been at Mizzou.

As of right now, it appears that Brooks will be the primary backup to Bolton, but there isn’t a definite piece set in stone next to Bolton right now. Brooks could possibly be the answer, but as of right now there is evidence that starter or not, Brooks will still be playing in every game.

Physicality and being a good tackler are what makes Brooks a solid rotational player for Tiger’s defense. Brooks is well respected in the locker room and can step up this year and be one of the vocal leaders that this team needs.

MLB1: Devin Nicholson- 6’3, 230 lbs (So.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 7

Total Tackles: 24

Interceptions: 0

The middle linebacker position is the job that is one of the most wide open for the defense. Mizzou legend, Cale Garrett, went down last year 5 games in, which forced open competition for his position. True freshman Devin Nicholson, was who the coaches turned too to fill in the gaping hole that Garrett left.

Nicholson started the final five games of the season at middle linebacker and played well for such a young player at a difficult position. Nicholson has great size and mobility which allows him to make plays around the field.

One thing that Nicholson needs to improve on is knowing where to be all the time. Being thrust into a starting role wasn’t fair, but with a full offseason mistakes won’t be forgiven the same for a guy that is entering his second year with the program. Nicholson has the talent and size to be the perfect pairing for Bolton, and it is okay to make the assumption that he will be the day one starter.

MLB2: Cameron Wilkins- 6’2, 235 lbs (Jr.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 10

Total Tackles: 33

Interceptions: 1

Wilkins was the original replacement for Cale Garrett, but an injury to Wilkins allowed Nicholson to get his shot at starting. Wilkins has a very similar game to Nicholson and can do everything that Nicholson can do. However, Nicholson’s ceiling is higher because he is a year younger and played well with no experience as a starter.

Athleticism and toughness are Wilkins’ strong suits. That gritty mentality is why it will be a battle for this position next to Bolton all the way up until the season starts. The coaches love Wilkins’ work ethic and named him 2018 Brick Squad Lifter of the Year for his efforts in the weight room.

If Wilkins wants to win this position battle and excel in the 2020 season, he has to stay healthy. If Wilkins suffers another injury it would open up the door fully for Nicholson to walk through and to never walk out. The battle between Wilkins and Nicholson will be one to keep a close eye on.

SAM1: Stacy Brown- 6’2, 212 lbs (So.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 11

Total Tackles: 2

Interceptions: 0

Brown is our projected started for the Tigers at the SAM position. For our readers that aren’t familiar with the terminology, SAM is just the strong-side linebacker. Brown is going to be an additional linebacker in the box and expected to play in coverage a lot of times as well. Brown’s role will be similar to what Kam Chancellor played for the Seahawks.

A promising young prospect out of Duncanville, Texas, Brown quickly found a role on special teams and saw time in the defensive rotation in a few games. Brown is great at finding the hole and laying the wood down. Brown thrives off of playing bully ball on the field and thrives off of contact.

One concern about Brown is his limited experience in this position. Nearly every other starting position on this defense has a veteran starting except at this one. If Brown follows through with the projection and starts week one, there will be immediate pressure put on him to perform at a high level.

Related Story: Mizzou Football 2020 positional breakdown: Offensive Line

SAM2: Aidan Harrison- 6’3, 200 lbs (So.)

2019 Stats:

Games Played: 8

Total Tackles: 0

Interceptions: 0

Like Brown, Harrison in his true freshman season made an immediate impact on special teams. Harrison is a freak athlete that can potentially turn into a playmate for the Tiger’s defense.

This position is up for grabs between the two true sophomores, but I believe that Brown will be the starter on day 1.