Where Mizzou football's 2021 NFL Draft hopefuls could be selected
The next three days will dictate major steps in the football journeys of several former Missouri standouts.
The 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday with the first round and its 32 selections, followed by rounds two and three Friday and the final four rounds Saturday.
After 259 players have been selected, the frenzy of teams signing undrafted free agents will commence, with unselected players having more of a say in where they will head for mini camp. Of course, being undrafted also means a less direct route to a 53-man NFL roster come the final weekend of August.
Last year featured one of the crazier free-agent signing periods for former Tigers, as nine members of the 2019 Missouri roster didn't hear their name called in the 2020 draft, but still got a chance to crack an NFL roster.
Missouri has had at least one player drafted every year since 2005 and is virtually guaranteed to continue that trend this year.
Nick Bolton expected to be first Mizzou football player taken in 2021 NFL Draft
The Tigers' highest-valued 2021 draft prospect is linebacker Nick Bolton, expected by several online projections to be picked either late in the first round or in the early-to-mid range of the second round.
"I feel like I can play in the NFL and be a high-caliber player," Bolton said after Missouri's pro day last month. "So it's about proving myself right every day, believing in myself and trying to get myself in the best situation possible."
Bolton's on-field pro day workout was led by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky, who spent several minutes talking with Bolton's family and his agent, Tommy Condon. The Steelers choose at No. 24 and 55 in the draft.
Online projections also have the Washington Football Team, Saints, Vikings and Cowboys taking Bolton by pick No. 50.
Bolton, who said March 22 he had spoken with 75% of NFL teams, has surely upped that number in preparation for the next three days.
The Frisco, Texas, native's stock took a major jump in 2019, starting beside Cale Garrett for Missouri. A two-interception performance against West Virginia set the table for a phenomenal year.
The 5-foot-11, 237-pound Bolton earned first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors after leading the league with 8.9 tackles per game (107 total, 7.5 tackles for loss) and eight pass deflections in 12 games.
In 2020, he was named a second-team Associated Press All-American, first-team All-SEC and a Butkus Award finalist, leading the Tigers with 95 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass deflections in 10 games.
"It would be a great experience to be a first-round pick," Bolton said. "But at the end of the day, once you go and put the logo on your helmet, no one really cares where you're picked. It's about production at that point."
Safety Tyree Gillespie's 40-yard dash time boosted his NFL Draft stock
Safety Tyree Gillespie, a late draft riser, is the second former Tiger expected to come off the board this week.
The Ocala, Florida, native shot up draft boards after a 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds at Missouri's pro day. Gillespie's second rep was 4.40.
Gillespie said his showing was "very expected" thanks to hard work and dedication.
"Day in and day out, just grinding and not taking a second off," Gillespie said of his mindset ahead of the draft. "Eat, sleep and train all the time, and never get complacent."
Known as a solid tackler and heavy hitter during his time in Columbia, the 6-foot, 207-pound Gillespie is projected to be selected as early as the third round and as late as the fifth.
Also first gaining prominent attention in 2019, Gillespie started 11 of 12 games for the Tigers, posting 50 tackles, four tackles for loss and seven pass deflections.
In 2020, Gillespie started eight of nine contests, missing one of Missouri's games with an injury. He finished the year with 46 tackles and four pass deflections.
Missouri lineman Larry Borom expected to be drafted in later rounds
Another likely draft selection among Missouri alumni is offensive lineman Larry Borom, who started at right tackle for the Tigers the past two years.
During his pro day workout last month, the 6-foot-6, 322-pound behemoth showed off some yoga poses alongside traditional blocking scenarios.
"It's flexibility," said Borom, who trimmed down more than 20 pounds from December to this spring. "Hip, ankle, knees, just making sure you can bend and be in the right position at all times. It's huge."
The Detroit native is projected to come off the board starting in round five, with a likelier selection coming in the final two rounds of the draft.
Missouri's Larry Rountree and Joshuah Bledsoe could be drafted as well
At the MU pro day, Rountree participated in running back drills and also took passes as a wide receiver — a move he hopes helps him stand out among his competition.
"I would say I've always been an underdog," Rountree said. "Coming out of high school, I was a two-star. So I've always had a permanent chip on my shoulder. ... Guys weren't talking about me coming out of high school. Nobody knew about me. That's why it's surprising what I did here at Mizzou.
"But still at the end of the day, I can't control how people talk about me. The only thing I can control is how I play. ... No matter what, if you think another guy's better than me, at the end of the day, I know what I can do. So it's more a fact of how I take it."
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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