Will Nolan Smith have his big breakout season in 2024?

Nolan Smith
Newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ Nolan Smith speaks during a news conference at the NFL football team’s training facility, Friday, April 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Some fans didn’t see the value of a player like Nolan Smith during the 2023 draft due to lower sack totals than some of the other edge rushers. Others thought he was too small, which is an issue with fans every year regarding a player’s size. This year was no different with some comparing Nakobe Dean and Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

There is more to a player’s production than reading the stats on the back of a football card. If you look deeper, the value and potential start to come more into focus. Nolan Smith’s pressure rates in college were elite, as was every athletic score outside his height and weight.

Explosion grade on the Relative Athletic Scoring system usually translates to power. A player’s vertical and broad, specifically. Nolan Smith’s 40-yard dash was 4.39. That was better than DeAndre Hopkins & Stefon Diggs. At the time, he was the heaviest player in Combine history to post a sub 4.40 forty. His vertical Jump: 41.50″ was better than DK Metcalf’s. He also became the heaviest player in Combine history to achieve a 10’8″ broad jump. 

One the field production was more of the same. 

Nolan Smith had the best run-stop rate among EDGE rushers in his draft at 16.3% and was one of the best at generating pressure with a 16.3% pressure rate at Georgia.

Pressure Rates

PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 01: Philadelphia Eagles Defensive End Brandon Graham (55) celebrates a turnover in the first half during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles on November 01, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles need to look no further than one of their pressure rate leaders as to why judging a player by their sack totals isn’t reliable. Brandon Graham finished the 2016 season with 5.5 sacks but was ranked the 9th-best player in football by PFF heading into the 2017 season.

Their ranking caused a lot of head-scratching, but PFF rated Graham on his more than just QB sacks. Despite ranking 18th in sacks amongst edge rushers, PFF based their evaluation on the totality of the disruption and pressure he was applying to the QB.

BG was 2nd overall with 83 pressures and only 3 behind the leader, Olivier Vernon, who had 156 more pass-rushing attempts. He didn’t have any games where he recorded multiple sacks, but he had nine games where he was credited with 5 or more pressures.

In week 8 he had 11 pressures versus the Cowboys, who were thought by most to have the best offensive line in football that year.

Graham’s Super Bowl-winning breakout 2017 season, in which he had 9.5 sacks, seemed to surprise some. It was on par with those paying attention to his 2016 pressure rate.

The Eagles are hoping for a similar leap with Nolan Smith. 

Nolan Smith: The Future

Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith
Newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ Nolan Smith, right, and Jalen Carter speak during a news conference at the NFL football team’s training facility, Friday, April 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Nolan Smith averaged 11 snaps a game last season with the Eagles as he was behind Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and Brandon Graham. The hierarchy has changed quite a bit since then. He is expected to be rotated in more heavily and surpass 400 plus snaps; the production should follow. 

But he knows he needs more than just playing time and that there are things to improve upon. 

“I just get mad at myself because them plays, I gotta finish. That’s why they brought me here. They brought me here to finish plays. Not get close, not almost do that. They brought me here to finish and make plays and that’s what I’m here to do.”

He plans to clean up the errors on the field, be a finisher, play fast, and bring the mentality to the field that every fan wants to see. 

“A lot of things can be eliminated, mistakes, by just going fast and hitting the sh — out of somebody. So that’s what I can’t wait to do.”

He will have the opportunity to do that on the field this season.

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AP Photo/Matt Slocum