- Nolan Smith
- 6’3″ 235 lbs.
Smith was a five-star prospect with a 0.9994 composite grade and the #1 player nationally, according to 247sports.com. The Bradenton, Florida native attended Calvary Day High School for two years, where he played offense and defense. In 2016, Smith accounted for 12 sacks and 12 offensive touchdowns. Nolan Smith transferred to IMG Academy for his junior and senior seasons. As a senior, he became one of four finalists for the Anthony Muñoz lineman of the year award. The polarizing EDGE rusher was recruited heavily by multiple SEC schools. He chose to sign with the Georgia Bulldogs as one of the best players in the class.
I think many would be surprised following his recruitment and hype that Smith would be a four-year player for the Georgia Bulldogs. The Georgia defender has struggled with injuries over his career. This was a big reason he stayed longer than expected. However, nobody in Athens, Georgia, is complaining after winning back-to-back National Championships.
Smith totaled 2.5 sacks in his first two seasons and created 35 pressures. Additionally, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith improved his run defense, tackling, and coverage grades from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Over his first two seasons, he played 446 snaps as a defensive lineman. Of those snaps, 434 came as an EDGE rusher lined up outside the tackle.
Smith had his breakout season in 2021. He improved in nearly every defensive category, including a career-high 53 tackles and 4.5 sacks. As a junior, he also collected his only interception and fumble recovery from his career while forcing three forced fumbles. Smith was at his best when it mattered the most. During the 2021 National Championship run, he collected 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble over his final two games.
A player doesn’t get crowned the #1 player nationally by simply being good at one thing. Nolan Smith is no different he has lined up at multiple positions across the Georgia defense during his four years with the Bulldogs. While he spent most of his snaps lining up as an EDGE rusher, he can impact in many ways. Smith possesses an elite skill set that can give offenses headaches.
In this play, he’s lined up in a familiar position looking to come off the blindside, but he disguises it well as both EDGE defenders drop out in this zone blitz. The Georgia defense creates instant interior pressure forcing a quick throw. Last year’s first-round pick Travon Walker tips the ball, and Smith makes a great adjustment to record the interception. This is one drive after Smith ripped the ball away from Florida QB Anthony Richardson, forcing a turnover. Smith’s versatility was on display in this game on back-to-back drives.
Relentless Run Defense
There’s a good chance Florida Gator fans won’t appreciate this rookie profile as much as others will. Smith might have had a little extra motivation playing against teams in his home state. He pops off the screen as a run defender. The way he violently attacks the offensive line on run plays is special. A huge part of what Smith can do in the run game is tied to the fact that he’s an intelligent player. He can diagnose things very well presnap. He’s shown the ability to have a middle linebacker type of play recognition while routinely lining up as an EDGE defender.
Unfortunately, this was the last we saw of Smith as a senior, as he left the game with an injury that would cost him the rest of the season. Regardless this was phenomenal work on back-to-back plays against the Gator’s running game. In the first play, he attacks a double team perfectly and continues to work down the line. Smith can use his hands to make sure when the time is right; he can shed the blocker and make the tackle. This is textbook stuff here by what some call an undersized defender; extraordinary stuff here.
The second play here is a missed assignment by the Florida offense. I’d hope they weren’t silly enough to leave a player of Smith’s caliber unblocked. This is another example of the high IQ here by Smith. He gives the fly sweep action no attention and knives in the backfield to blow this play up for a loss. Smith gets away with chopping his feet a few steps into the backfield just in case the QB keeps the ball on a bootleg. His elite change of direction allows him to do this and almost play both the QB and RB. Not many players can get away with this on any level of football.
Speed and Bend
The two-time National Champion has some elite speed, and at this point, I don’t even know how to describe his bend. It’s not a move that Smith goes to often because he relies so much on his speed. He can overwhelm offensive tackles with his power. He’s shown flashes of getting low off the edge. If Smith can perfect his craft on using his bend to get to the QB, he will be a more complete rusher. Speed is a big strength of his, but using it more as a setup move will be a point of emphasis for him at the NFL level.
Size and Durability
This goes without saying when talking about a 230 lb pass rusher. Smith has struggled with injuries in each of his past two seasons. We are talking a lot less about this if he doesn’t miss the entire second half of the 2022 season leading up to his declaring for the NFL Draft.
Smith struggles with bigger offensive linemen, as most undersized players do. The level of physicality in the SEC is top-tier, but it still isn’t what players experience at the NFL level. Smith is a very tough player, and I hope this is just a small run of bad luck for him. We can only hope he can shake any issues with injuries affecting his ability to stay on the field. I look at EDGE rushers like Haason Reddick and Micah Parsons, who have done serious damage in the NFL as pass rushers at sub-250 lbs.
Honestly, this is a ‘weakness’ we default to far too often as analysts. There’s no downside to being a hybrid defender. We often get hung up on players who don’t line up at a true position for a high percentage of snaps. There are plenty of examples of some of the best defensive players schemed differently by their defensive coordinators. We, for some reason, use that against a player in evaluations.
I believe in the player’s talent, and Smith can be a game-wrecker on defense. This player has been compared to Khalil Mack and Von Miller at various points in his young career. That wasn’t by accident, and while he’s not quite those guys, he has the potential to be a good NFL player as he develops. Smith has proven he can make impact plays at the highest level. That is one of the factors dynasty managers should use to impact their decision to add him to their teams this off-season.
This is my third consecutive rookie profile covering an EDGE defender. Forgive me if it’s the same team when I mention a landing spot. Currently, I have Smith as a late first or early to mid-second-round selection in the NFL draft. If he makes it to the late second or third round I think he’ll be a steal for whichever team drafts him.
Teams always need EDGE, and Smith falling past the late first would surprise me a little. NFL teams like Baltimore, Dallas, and Kansas City need a player of his caliber. It would be wise for teams not to let him fall that far. Based on the team’s needs, there’s no stopping it without feeling you over drafted the player. If he were to fall into the second round, the Rams, Texans, and Cardinals should have a serious interest in the Georgia pass rusher. There aren’t many landing spots that should concern dynasty managers or make them drop Smith in their rankings.
I wouldn’t expect that the torn pectoral muscle would affect Smith heading into his rookie season. His being drafted in the first round would raise his dynasty value quite a bit. If he falls into the late second or third round, there will be some value. It’s challenging to predict rookie production this early. If Smith is even a rotational player as a rookie, he can be valuable to a contending dynasty roster. As always, you approach rookie IDP production as I’ll believe it when I see it. However, with the number of rookies in recent years who have provided some value in year one, there is at least a chance that he can be a factor in 2023.
The Dynasty Nerds team has you covered with rookie profiles, Nerd’s scores, and the Nerds’ film room. We want you to be informed of all the prospects before the NFL Draft and your league’s rookie drafts. We encourage you to use all the resources available to get the edge on your league mates. Feel free to reach out to any of the members of the Dynasty Nerds team with questions all off-season. We are looking to prepare you for another winning season in 2023.
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