Nolan Smith | Georgia 6’2” 238 lbs. | 01/18/2001 (22)
Nolan Smith was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, becoming the sixth Edge Rusher and 30th overall player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Nolan Smith was ranked as the top overall prospect of the 2019 recruiting class coming out of high school. He was recruited to IMG Academy, during high school, where he played for two years and won the defensive player of the year on his team as a senior year. In 2019 he played as a reserve for Georgia, posting 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He was the co-winner of the Bulldogs’ Defensive Newcomer of the Year award that year. Smith started one of 10 games he played in 2020, recording 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He broke through and earned a starting edge spot in 2021, starting 14 games for the national champion Bulldogs, logging 56 tackles, nine TFLs, and 3.5 sacks, with one INT and three forced fumbles.
Last season Smith started the first eight games of Georgia’s repeat title march, logging 18 tackles, seven TFLs, and three sacks, before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle.
Nolan Smith is a smaller edge defender that has primarily been a speed rusher to this point in his football career. His lower weight and limited length require him to exert maximum effort to battle tackles at the point of attack, but he was the toughness to get it done. He has acquired technique and learned to utilize leverage, and these skills allow him to hold up at the point of attack better than other players his size.
Based purely on his smaller frame, one might expect him to be more effective as a pass rusher than a run defender, but the opposite is true. As a pass rusher, he has speed but lacks the counters, hand moves, and contact balance to consistently win against larger tackles. Smith falls below the size standards and many teams viewed him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he will be entering the league as a 4-3 situational defensive end. Still, his football IQ, awareness, and technique make him ready to contribute in the pros immediately, while he has time to develop the second and third phases of his pass rush.
Nolan Smith ran an explosive 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, with a 10-yard split of 1.52. His vertical jump was 41.5” which blew away the competition (not just at his own position, but for the entire draft class. Similarly, he exploded for an impressive 10’8” broad jump. These are elite marks for an edge rusher. Smith chose to opt out of the shuttle and three-cone drill and passed on the bench press (torn pectoral recovery). Still, his testing numbers were a huge success for his draft stock.
Rapid Reaction to Draft Capital: Great
Rapid Reaction to Landing Spot: Great
Smith was selected with the 30th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nolan Smith lands in an ideal situation, aside from the fact that he will transition to a 4-3 scheme as an edge defender. In Philly, he will benefit from learning from a similar-sized player in Hassan Reddick, as well as the aging but productive Brandon Graham. The Eagles have an elite defensive line and one of the better defenses in the entire league, with a veteran, championship-ready roster. Smith managed to land in this spot and also capture first-round draft capital, both of which are great for his projections as a player. As mentioned above, he has some things to learn to become an elite pass rusher, and he will need to adapt to the 4-3 scheme, but 2024 and beyond look very fruitful.
Nolan Smith is your author’s DE4 of this very strong rookie class due to the combination of his impressive speed and explosiveness and his landing spot. He should become a reliable scorer in most IDP formats in 2024 and beyond. Expect to see him drafted early in the middle of the third round of dynasty rookie drafts.
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