From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling Georgia LB Nolan Smith.
#4 Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia (Senior) – 6030, 235lb
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Nolan Smith||6’3, 235lb||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Athletic defender with good play speed and explosiveness
— Rallies to the football well in pursuit as well as chasing down the QB
— Accelerates well in the open field when he gets moving
— Has impressive play strength for his size
— Fights to hold his own at the point of attack and set the edge
— Low, squatty body allows him to battle bigger OL and win with leverage
— Can shed blocks against the run as well as knife through gaps
— Wins often on his speed rush or through pure effort on extended plays
— Fluid mover in space that can cover backs and tight ends in man coverage
— Heady, instinctive player that effectively makes zone drops and reads QB’s eyes
— Has proven special teams production during his time at Georgia
— Selfless, team-first player that will play whatever role is asked of him
— Lacks ideal measurements as an edge rusher
— Shorter, lighter frame leads to him getting contacted first by OL often
— Lacks arm length to keep blockers consistently off his frame
— Lack of mass and weight can make life difficult to hold his spot against bigger stronger OL
— Doesn’t have much of a pass rush plan regarding a go-to move or a counter
— Hand usage needs to improve to consistently defeat blocks in pursuit of the QB
— Doesn’t generate speed to power much as a rusher despite having leverage on his side
— Will often overrun the play around the arc in attempt to evade tackle’s punch
— More of a tweener regarding his fit as an off-ball LB or an edge rusher
— Coming off a torn pectoral in November, putting his availability for the start of training camp in doubt
— Senior Prospect from Savannah, GA
— Born January 18, 2001 (age 22)
— Consensus five-star prospect, top-ranked prospect nationally out of IMG Academy in 2019 recruiting class
— Transferred to IMG after two years at Calvary Day, where he played DL and RB
— Enrolled at UGA in January and participated in Spring drills
— Played in all 14 games as a true freshman and finished with 18 total stops, including 2.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks along with 15 QB pressures
_ Played in all ten games in 2020 and posted 21 total tackles (10 solo), 2.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 20 QB pressures
— Played in 14 of 15 games in 2021, starting all 14 he played and registered 56 total stops, eight TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 27 pressures, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a PBU, an INT, and a blocked punt
— Started at LB in eight games in 2022 before tearing his pectoral against Florida
— Posted 18 total tackles (14 solo), seven TFLs, three sacks, 16 QB pressures, and a PBU in eight games
— Co-winner of Defensive Newcomer of the Year (2019)
— 2022 Team Captain, two-time National Champion (2021-22)
— Mathematics Major
Nolan Smith has been a highly touted name ever since high school when he was one of the top players in his recruiting class. He stepped onto campus in Athens and didn’t miss a beat, contributing right away for the stacked Georgia Bulldogs defense. Smith got into the mix at OLB early in his college career, showing college football fans and scouts reasons why scouting services raved about his talent and potential coming out of high school.
When you watch Nolan Smith on tape, you see a small, yet strong defender that lacks prototypical size and length at the edge rusher position. However, Smith shows that he often can win with leverage and technique as a sound run defender. He can shed blocks and keep outside contain against the run like on this rep against Kentucky where Smith gets off the block on the edge and gets in on the tackle behind the LOS for a loss of yards on the play.
Smith also has shown the capability of crossing the blocker’s face and knifing through gaps to make plays against the run like on these two consecutive stops Smith makes against Oregon to open the 2022 season.
When it comes to winning as a pass rusher, Nolan Smith does his best work with pure speed off the edge, using a good get-off and acceleration after the snap to work around the arc and get into the pocket. Watch this rep where Smith gets a two-hand swipe on the LT to round the corner into the pocket, pressuring the QB to throw early to his check-down option underneath.
His size allows him to maneuver well in space, being able to make quick adjustments on the ball carrier. Here is one example against Florida where Smith starts to rush on the outside, collapsing the pocket thus forcing #15 Anthony Richardson to step up. Richardson decides to take off, but Smith quickly counters back uncoiling into the QB to bring him down behind the LOS.
Smith’s movement skills also translate well to coverage as he is fluid enough to turn and run with backs and tight ends down the field in man coverage. Here is one example against Kentucky where Smith lines up on the edge and runs step-for-step with WR # Wan’Dale Robinson up the sideline.
Nolan Smith can excel in zone coverage drops as well too, having the lateral quickness and spatial awareness to break on the ball once thrown. Smith made a big play last year against the Gators on this tipped pass by Travon Walker after dropping into the flat and then adjusting to the middle of the field once he sees Richardson release the football. Smith leaps up for the INT, giving the Bulldogs the ball back in their own territory.
Another quality of Smith’s that sticks out is his overall effort. He is a selfless, team-first player that competes until the whistle blows. This play perfectly paints that picture as Smith wraps up the runner along with the rest of the defense after a short gain, but he works to rip the football away from the ballcarrier. Smith successfully comes up with the football coming up with the turnover for the defense.
However, a negative that sticks out when watching Nolan Smith on tape is his sheer lack of size. He is a tweener body type, having the size of an off-ball LB, but plays on the edge. He is a stout run defender but lacks the hand usage and pass rush plan to win consistently off the edge. He also lacks ideal length and mass, making it easier for opposing OTs to latch onto him and neutralize him as a rusher as well as engulf him in the running game. Take a look at this rep where Smith gets taken for a ride by Kentucky’s LT last season, lacking the length and size to deconstruct the block.
Overall, Nolan Smith is an athletic, versatile linebacker whose body type makes for an intriguing fit at the next level. He has shown to be a quality run defender and represents himself well in coverage situations, but his lack of prototypical size, weight, and length will present a challenge of defeating blocks at the next level against bigger, longer offensive linemen. He wins with more effort and pure athleticism as a pass rusher at this point rather than with technique, thus he will need to add to his repertoire to make an impact in that facet of the game at the next level.
When watching Smith, Uchenna Nwosu for the Seattle Seahawks comes to mind as another tweener-type of pass rusher, having more mass but a similar frame to Smith (6’2, 251lb). Nwosu won as a pass rusher in college by taking great angles to the football and on various blitz packages in college like Smith while also being a quality run defender. Nwosu was also known for making an impact in the passing game in college and that success has followed him to the pros. I expect Smith to be a similar defender in terms of being a capable run defender and in pass coverage, but needing to win unconventionally as a pass rusher like Nwosu has in the league.
The Pittsburgh Steelers could use additional depth at OLB behind Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt for next season. The medical for Nolan Smith will be a deciding factor regarding how high he may get drafted or how far he falls. While not a natural 3-4 OLB, Pittsburgh normally prefers more players with his body type at the position, albeit he adds another 5-10lb. His athletic traits, pedigree, and character match what Pittsburgh looks for, making Smith a possible fit for the Steelers in the middle rounds of the draft should the medicals check out.
Projection: Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 7.7 MED – Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: vs Oregon (2022), vs Florida (2021), vs Kentucky (2021), vs Alabama (2021)