Nolan Smith Draft Profile
This is the year of outliers; I wrote about it on Bryce Young’s, Darnell Washington’s, Peter Skoronski’s, and now Georgia Edge Rusher, Nolan Smith’s draft profile. At 6’2 238 lbs., Smith will be one of the smallest and lightest edge rushers in the national football league. While his stature is much smaller than the prototype, his heart and energy allows him to appear bigger than he is. After tearing his pectoral muscle in a week nine game at the end of October, Smith was asked to take on a vocal leadership role by coach Kirby Smart. Smith embraced the role and was the heart of the national champion Georgia Bulldogs. His leadership and positive aura cannot be overlooked and may help in the pre-draft meeting process as he is someone that people gravitate towards. There are few players who helped their stock more than Smith after the season was over. At the combine, he ran a 4.39 40 yard dash and jumped 41.5 inches on the vertical. Athletically speaking, Smith gives defensive coaches the ability to get creative and move him around on the field. I cannot see Smith getting out of the first half of this draft, his athletic ability and demeanor are just too enticing for him to drop outside of the top 15 picks.
When discussing Nolan Smith’s strengths, the two traits that stick out most are his speed and bend. As I stated earlier, he ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash and it translates when quarterbacks break the pocket or running backs try to bounce out towards the sideline. He is relentless and has the closing speed to make any play on the football field. His ability to dip his shoulder while maintaining stability allows him to take creative angles and find different ways to get to the quarterback. His bend matched with his short area burst and lateral speed gives matchup problems to bigger, unathletic tackles. His ability to shake offensive linemen is reminiscent of a receiver releasing off the line of scrimmage. At that size, toughness is a prerequisite, and there is no question about whether or not Smith has it. In the run game, Smith is violent and attacks approaching offensive linemen. He gets excellent knock-back and initiates contact to oncoming pullers. Even though he has a shorter reach, Smith has a knack for being able to disengage and make plays in the backfield. On his third-down rushes, Smith’s upper-body is able to tell a story while his lower body is turning a corner or changing directions. He has displayed very good quickness and fluidity that allows him to get to the quarterback unscathed; he is a play-maker that consistently generates pressure. While Smith’s primary role in the NFL should be to rush the passer and make splash plays behind the line of scrimmage in the run game, I would like to see him in a system that allows him to play multiple positions on and off the ball.
The obvious concern surrounding Nolan Smith is his size and whether or not he is going to be able to hold up as an edge rusher at 238 lbs. While his durability will ultimately be out of his control, I believe technological advancements and scheme can find ways to keep players healthy. He played over 1,100 snaps in the SEC and has fully recovered from his torn pec; from here on out it will be on the teams training staff to make sure his body is capable of handling the load of a 17+ game football season.
While in college Smith was able to find ways to mitigate his shorter arms, it is going to be even harder in the NFL. He demonstrated a few two-hand swipes, but there is so much room for him to grow with his hands, which is a way he will be able to attenuate his shorter reach. My biggest concern regarding Smith is his overall strength and ability to win with power. While he is tough, he is not very strong. On his bullrushes, he gets very little pushback so he is forced to win on a counter move. I question his ability to hold edges in the run game. While he does a good job at using his quickness to make plays in the backfield, there are also plays where he gets driven back and widens run lanes. In the NFL, I want to see him use his natural leverage as a shorter defensive end to maintain a strong base and contain the edge. Defensive coordinators may need to be creative with him early on, but eventually I believe he is going to find his footing and terrorize the NFL.
Smith is going to be able to make an instant impact as a vibrant energy in NFL locker rooms. While I don’t anticipate him ever being known for his power rushes, if he can add strength and deepen his pass-rush arsenal he will be able to win in more ways than just speed and bend. He reminds me of Bruce Irvin, but I think he already has a better feel for the run game than Irvin had. I believe he is a top ten player in this draft, and would love to see him land in Philadelphia where he can learn from another short edge rusher in Hassan Reddick. Howie Roseman has a good track-record with undersized athletes and prioritizes high-character players. He would not have to play right away, be paired up with his former defensive tackle Jordan Davis, and add youth to a more experienced defensive line. Jonathan Gannon and the Cardinals may want their own version of Reddick, especially if they trade back with a quarterback-needy team. Smith is one of my favorite players in the draft and I see him being a fan-favorite once he gets into the league. While he will most likely be known for his speed rushes, he has room to develop into a combo rusher. I believe he is going to make an immediate impact in the run-game, and potentially develop into a double-digit sack player.
Bend + Fluidity: 11/12
Speed + Burst: 11.25/12
Strength + Violence: 8.5/12
Explosiveness + Point of Contact: 9/10
Length + Hand Usage: 7/10
Short-Area Quickness + Change of Direction: 7.25/8
Block Shed + Play-Making: 6.75/8
Run Game + Gap Integrity: 7.25/8
Instincts + Intelligence: 5.25/6
Effort + Pursuit: 5.25/6
Final Rating: 85
Pro Comparison: Bruce Irvin with a better feel for the run game
Team Fits: Eagles, Cardinals, Falcons
Draft Projection: Top 15 Pick
Draft Grade: Top 10 Player