The Chiefs remain in the top five in total defense and points allowed, and they check in eighth in defensive DVOA. But the 8-3 team has lost two games without its top linebacker.
Nick Bolton is rehabbing a dislocated wrist that required surgery. Despite the third-year defender’s initial timetable being approximately two months, he returned to Chiefs practice Wednesday. The AFC West leaders officially designated Bolton for return from IR, starting his 21-day activation clock.
Kansas City looks to be proceeding in accordance with Bolton’s previously reported timetable. Andy Reid said (via ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher) the standout tackler will be brought along slowly. The Chiefs placed Bolton on IR five weeks ago, with their bye coming during this stretch. That stands to help the defending champs, who lost to the Broncos and Eagles during Bolton’s second absence this season. The team’s oft-discussed pass-game inconsistency obviously contributed to those defeats, but Kansas City having Bolton back will be critical to tightening a sturdy defensive safety net.
While overshadowed by the two future Hall of Famers on offense and Chris Jones on defense, Bolton has become one of the league’s top young linebackers. The former second-round pick ripped off a 180-tackle season in 2022 and scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LVII, coming a split-second away from a second TD in that game. This season, however, Bolton has only suited up for four games. An ankle injury sidelined the 23-year-old ‘backer for a three-game stretch earlier this year.
Willie Gay is in a contract year, and the Chiefs fortified their linebacking corps by signing former Charger Drue Tranquill to a low-cost deal (one year, $3MM) this offseason. Those two have played the most snaps among Chiefs linebackers this season, while second-year performer Leo Chenal has seen more time compared to his rookie year.
Bolton will profile as an extension candidate next year, joining fellow 2021 second-round pick Creed Humphrey in that regard. The Mizzou product will attempt to solidify his value with a strong stretch run this season.