Kirby Smart has turned the Georgia Bulldogs into college football’s premier powerhouse. Their offense is good, but their defense has been the stuff of nightmares, at least for opposing offenses.
For NFL teams, however, the Georgia defense has been a wellspring of talent and explosive athletes.
Edge defender Nolan Smith isn’t the highest rated Georgia defender in this year’s draft, and a torn pectoral muscle complicates his draft stock. However, he could still be a first round pick despite his injury and lack of consistent production. Depending on how the first round goes, Smith could find himself in consideration for the New York Giants when their pick comes around.
Could he help the Giants’ front seven and explode onto the scene in Wink Martindale’s defense?
Prospect: Nolan Smith (4)
Games Watched: vs. Oregon (2022), vs. South Carolina (2022), vs. Missouri (2022), vs. Vanderbilt (2022)
Red Flags: Torn pectoral (2022)
Games Played: 38
Tackles For a loss: 20.0
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 3
Games Played: 8
Tackles For a loss: 7.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes defensed: 1
Best: Length, athleticism, explosiveness, play strength, competitive toughness, versatility
Worst: Health, mass, snap timing
Projection: A rotational EDGE or outside linebacker with starting potential early in his career.
(Smith is Georgia EDGE number 4)
Georgia’s Nolan Smith is a long, lean, athletic, and highly competitive EDGE and outside linebacker prospect.
Smith typically aligned as an edge defender in Georgia’s multiple defense. He played on both the left and right side of the defensive line, and played out of both a two and three-point stance. Smith appears more comfortable as a stand-up rusher, as opposed to rushing as a down lineman, but is capable of doing both.
He is a very good athlete, showing good explosiveness, quickness, agility, speed, and play strength. Smith is able to beat blockers to their landmarks and win with speed and technique. He also has enough play strength to set a firm edge in run support, as well as add a power aspect to his rushes. Smith is at his best when rushing with a “dip and rip” move and using a long-arm move as his counter. He has the ability to transfer speed into power, surprising blockers who over-set to account for his speed off the edge. Smith has very good lower-body flexibility, with good mobility in his ankles, knees, and hips which allows him to run a tight arc and carry speed around the edge.
He is a fiery competitor who has great hustle in pursuit and never backs down from taking on bigger blockers. Smith is also a highly physical player and doesn’t shy away from laying big hits or getting his hands dirty in the run game.
Smith was also asked to drop into coverage on occasion. He quickly gets good depth in his coverage drops, and appears comfortable playing in space. He has good range at the second level, solid agility and movement skills, and has enough speed to run with most skill position players. Smith probably shouldn’t be asked to play man coverage in the NFL, at least not without further development. He doesn’t appear to have much experience as a coverage player can get “grabby”, which will likely draw pass interference penalties at the NFL level.
Smith shows some inconsistency in timing the snap. There can be a noticeable pause between the snap of the ball and the start of Smith’s rush. His athleticism was able to compensate at the collegiate level, but NFL caliber offensive tackles will be able to use the extra time to get into position and negate Smith’s explosiveness. Likewise, Smith can also have a slight hesitation while he processes misdirection. There are instances where he is clearly playing purely on instinct and he has great play speed, but there are other instances where it seems as though he doesn’t want to be wrong.
The biggest, and most immediate concern with Smith is medical. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the first quarter of Georgia’s October 29th win over Florida. His medical reports and long-term prognosis will be crucial to his overall draft stock. In particular, teams will want to ensure that there was no long-term damage to his chest or shoulder joint.
Overall Grade: 7.5
Nolan Smith projects as an important rotational EDGE early in his career, with the upside to quickly become a starter in a “multiple” defense.
Smith has an unconventional body type for an NFL edge defender and is noticeably thinner than most edges. However, that doesn’t seem to impact his game all that much, as he has impressive play strength and good flexibility to maintain leverage. He does a good job of getting extension to ensure that he is able to keep his body clean, while his athleticism allows him to initiate contact.
Smith would probably be used best as a dedicated pass rusher to start his career. That would allow defensive coordinators to scheme him opportunities to use his athleticism in one-on-one situations or free runs to the quarterback. His biggest areas of improvement to start his career will be to better time snaps, and become more efficient with his hand usage. If he can improve those areas of his game, Smith will be able to consistently explode into the backfield and more consistently carry speed around the edge without getting caught up in hand-fighting with offensive linemen.
Smith did not have as much production for Georgia as his athletic profile would suggest. However, he filled a somewhat similar role in Kirby Smart’s defense as Leonard Floyd and Lorenzo Carter, and had roughly similar production. His best football is likely ahead of him with some development and more opportunities to attack into the backfield.