After selecting Jalen Carter with the 9th overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, it was acknowledged by most people that the Eagles got perhaps the best defensive player to come out of college this year. If that wasn’t enough, they were somehow able to snag linebacker Nolan Smith with the 30th overall selection, and he could well become the steal of the entire Draft.
Getting to know Nolan Smith
Along with Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean last year, Nolan Smith was a core piece of the dominant Georgia Bulldogs defense that led the way to 2 College National Championships.
When watching the tape on Nolan Smith, the first thing that jumps off the screen is how incredible an athlete he is. He is fairly tall at 6’3”, the same height as draft-mate Jalen Carter, but is much leaner, at 235 pounds. Smith will probably add a little bit of weight as he transitions to the NFL level, but for the position and role the Eagles will ask him to play, size should not be an issue.
He was listed as a linebacker when he was drafted but Smith is also a prolific pass-rusher. He is similar to Haason Reddick in that he is a bigger player for the position, and as a result can be used as a pass-rusher. The Eagles may not value the linebacker position as much as other teams, but they do put immense value on the hybrid-type players that can line up on or behind the line of scrimmage.
Smith is incredibly quick for someone of his stature as well. He has an explosive first step and can get off the line and generate pressure very quickly. When he’s lined up at the line of scrimmage, he contorts his body in all types of weird angles to get around bigger and slower offensive linemen.
He also can catch up to quarterbacks and running backs in the open field and is a great 1 on 1 tackler with fast feet. He will occasionally use a bullrush technique to run over the opponent, combining his nimble footwork with raw power. His preferred method is usually to use a spin move and bend the edge, although he does have that bullrush if needed.
Just as impressive off the field
Outside of his physical traits, Smith is very gifted intellectually. He graduated from Georgia with a degree in Mathematics, which is not typical of a highly recruited football player. He took his schooling very seriously, which is a great sign for when he plays in the NFL. He should be able to understand professional playbooks as more is asked of him. He doesn’t need to be the defensive leader now, but he has the potential to be in the future. Nolan Smith will likely get to the point where he can read offenses and and prepare to blow up a play before it even starts.
Nolan Smith has the potential to be an extremely versatile player for the Eagles. He can be an every-down backer because of his ability to line up at multiple different places on the field and be effective on running and passing plays.
Nolan Smith has an incredibly high ceiling
His biggest concern is holding up from injury. He’s missed multiple games in 3 out of his 4 seasons at Georgia and missed the entire second half of the 2022 season when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in October. These injuries are reason for concern but the physical and mental traits he possesses are enough to outweigh the negatives. If everything goes right, Nolan Smith can become a defensive fixture of the Eagles for the next decade.