After nearly posting double-digit sacks in a COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, Oklahoma OLB Nik Bonitto is a fast-rising 2022 NFL Draft prospect. Now entering his redshirt junior season, does Bonitto have the necessary skill set to challenge for a spot in the early rounds? Bonitto’s scouting report sheds light on that pressing question.
Nik Bonitto NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- School: Oklahoma
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 238 pounds
Nik Bonitto Scouting Report
There are several different molds of players at the edge rusher position. There are the long, burly hybrid linemen who can shade inside. You have the traditional edge rushers who offer the necessary length and athleticism to generate consistent pressure. And then there are those who blur the line between edge rusher and off-ball linebacker. Bonitto is one of these players.
Players like Bonitto can be very valuable, especially in the modern NFL. It’s uncommon to find pass rushing and coverage threats in one, but Bonitto projects well as a versatile piece on an NFL defensive front. And as you’ll see in Bonitto’s NFL Draft scouting report, it all starts with his athletic foundation.
Nik Bonitto’s athletic profile
Bonitto is listed at 6’3″, 238 pounds, but he might be a bit shorter than that listed height. Nevertheless, those measurements do well to convey his frame. He’s a bit smaller than the average edge defender, but the Oklahoma OLB makes up for it with his movement skills.
Bonitto is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete. He accelerates quickly out of direction changes, and he’s also incredibly light on his feet when traversing the line. Bonitto’s lateral athleticism can grant him positive leverage against tackles. Furthermore, he possesses solid fluidity when navigating through congestion.
When engaging the line on pass-rushing reps, Bonitto’s athleticism continues to stand out. He has the agility to execute spins and other finesse moves, and he sinks his hips with relative ease when changing directions. His natural twitch lends him the capacity for quick upper body movements. Moreover, Bonitto flashes the ankle flexion necessary to lower himself and reduce his surface area.
Execution beyond the physical traits
The majority of Bonitto’s scouting report appeal comes from his athletic foundation, but there are some intangible traits that inflate his value as well. For instance, Bonitto is a high-effort player, and that effort shows up in multiple phases. In run and pass defense, he keeps his legs moving even while anchored. And in tackling situations, he’s willing to lay out and dive for takedowns.
Going further with Bonitto’s pass-rushing ability, the Oklahoma OLB actively works to disrupt the passing window with his hands when he nears the quarterback. He doesn’t have the most imposing length, but he’s proactive in using it to the best of his ability. In a similar vein, Bonitto flashes calculated hand usage. He can improve here, but the foundation is there for him to keep building.
Bonitto’s pass-rushing upside is most enticing, but he’s also versatile enough to drop back in coverage. His intangible traits heavily contribute to that ability. Bonitto is a surprisingly instinctive pass defender in the short and intermediate ranges. He has the awareness to patrol the flats, and he’s fluid turning his hips toward the sideline to close off checkdowns.
Areas for improvement
Although Bonitto is an exciting talent, it is important to go over his flaws. Particularly in run defense, he leaves a lot to be desired. Bonitto can struggle to disengage in this phase. Additionally, his lack of mass makes him easy to handle in tight spaces. His smaller frame and lesser length can hurt him against larger tackles. He’s also not very proficient at setting the edge.
On pass-rushing reps, Bonitto’s lacking size and strength also show up in spurts. He isn’t overly powerful, and tackles with superior length can grab his frame and negate his rushes early. He needs a bit of space to gear up, and his hands aren’t consistently precise or forceful at this point. Because his frame presents a natural deficiency, he’ll have to keep refining his hand usage if he wants to reach his full potential.
Among other things, Bonitto can be more consistent in sustaining acceleration through rushes, and he can improve his overall coordination with various rushing moves. Moreover, he does occasionally overshoot optimal tackling angles. In general, Bonitto controls his physical traits well but can still work to improve in this area.
Nik Bonitto’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
Bonitto is an incredibly intriguing NFL Draft prospect with an immensely exciting scouting report. That excitement largely stems from his pass-rushing upside. He’s explosive, twitchy, fluid, and he flashes the ability to bend below the tackle — a quality that’s relatively rare and valuable among edge defenders. Bonitto provides value in coverage with his athleticism and has the reaction ability and instincts to hold his own past athletic traits.
Where Bonitto fails to impress is in run defense. There are times where his explosiveness can create negative plays. But overall, his lacking size and average length hurts him a great deal in congested areas. He could feasibly add mass to his frame to combat this. However, too much mass might detract from his athleticism and movement ability. Bonitto can still work to become a better run defender, but his upside as a three-down defender remains uncertain.
Even so, as a pass rusher and a versatile chess piece in pass defense, Bonitto demands attention. He seems like a defender born and bred for the modern NFL. On passing downs, his explosive skill set provides plenty of potential. In 2021, he can continue to affirm his reputation there.
Nik Bonitto’s Player Profile
Like most prospects coveted by playoff contenders, Bonitto’s talent was clear from an early age. He attended the revered St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — well known for its development of athletic talent.
In testing, he put up solid numbers for his still-developing 6’3″, 205-pound frame, logging a 4.71 40-yard dash and earning a vertical jump of 31.3 inches.
Bonitto ended up ranking well inside the Top 250 on ESPN’s 2018 recruiting board, filing in as a four-star prospect. The prolific high school defender received offers from some of the most imposing programs in college football, including Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and LSU. Even so, Bonitto was drawn to the operation in Norman, Oklahoma, instead. He officially announced his commitment to Lincoln Riley’s squad during the Under Armour All-America Game, sealing in the next chapter of his career.
Bonitto’s career at Oklahoma
As is often the case, Bonitto needed some time to acclimate to the collegiate level. As a result, he wound up redshirting his freshman season. Yet, it wasn’t a completely inactive year for him. He managed to play in three games and gained valuable experience against Florida Atlantic, UCLA, and West Virginia.
By 2019, Bonitto upped his weight to 231 pounds, and as his next season began, he slowly saw an increase in opportunity. The Oklahoma OLB ended up starting eight of the Sooners’ 14 games, alongside future NFL Draft picks like Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore. Over the course of the 2019 season, Bonitto amassed 43 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, an interception, and 4 pass deflections.
In 2020, he expanded on his improvements made in 2019 and took his game to the next level. He earned career highs in tackles for loss and sacks, accruing 11 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks, respectively. He also tacked on 33 total tackles and 2 pass deflections for good measure — all in just 10 games. The Oklahoma OLB earned second-team All-American honors as a result. Additionally, along the way, he drew All-Big 12 academic recognition as well.
Nik Bonitto’s NFL Draft ascension
After his 2020 campaign, Bonitto is trending up faster than GameStop was a few months ago. He’s not quite in the top tier of the edge rusher class, but he’s a legitimate contender to crack the end of the first round if he continues to hone his traits. However, as it stands, the Florida product projects as a strong Day 2 pick who can thrive in a situation that maximizes his versatility and pass-rushing appeal.
Still, Bonitto will need to continue to refine his hand usage. Furthermore, it may be in his best interest to add weight to his frame. Having said that, his smaller measurements naturally detract from his upside as a run defender. Thus, his best niche might be as a chess piece in pass defense.
With his explosive first step, quick directional twitch, and awareness in zone coverage, Bonitto is a universally impactful pass defender. In a pass-happy NFL, that’s a good title to have.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Nik Bonitto
Positives: Slightly undersized 3-4 linebacker who excels as a pass rusher. Breaks down well, plays with balance as well as body control, and uses his hands to protect himself. Knifes inside double-team blocks, immediately alters his angle of attack, and shows a closing burst to the play. Stout at the point, plays off blocks, and has a fluid style.
Fires off the snap and plays with terrific pad level when playing out of a three-point stance. Bends off the edge as a pass rusher, quickly gets upfield, and displays the speed necessary to pursue laterally. Gets to the sidelines and cuts off the corners from ball handlers. Rarely off his feet.
Negatives: Primarily used up the field and laterally outside the box. Lack of bulk will hamper him at the next level.
Analysis: Bonitto has shown consistent improvement in his game the past two seasons. He’s a defensive front-seven player who does more than just pin his ears back and rush up the field. While he needs to develop a complete game, Bonitto’s ability to rush the passer will make him an early selection on Day 2.