Evaluating Georgia edge defender Nolan Smith for the 2023 NFL Draft (2023)

Evaluating Georgia edge defender Nolan Smith for the 2023 NFL Draft (1)

Nolan Smith, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 class, ahead of even Kayvon Thibodeaux, was a rotational player over his first two seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs, recording 39 tackles total and 2.5 sacks in each of them.

Smith then took over a starting spot in 2021 for that dominant Georgia defense. He racked up 53 total tackles, eight of those for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. A torn pec limited Smith to just eight games this season, yet he still recorded seven TFLs and three sacks across those and helped set up his team for back-to-back national championships.

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Nolan Smith, Georgia

6-foot-3, 235 pounds; Senior


+ Plays the game with a team-first mindset, an incredible level of toughness and the admiration of all his teammates

+ Displays great speed out of his stance, to where at times when he’s left unblocked on the backside of RPOs and quarterbacks try to throw the backside bubble alert, he can almost bat down the pass

+ Maximizes his length and transitions his weight into blocks when trying to set the edge

+ Very good ab grabbing cloth and pulling guys off himself after fitting his hands initially

(Video) Film Study!!! Edge/OLB Nolan Smith (Georgia) 2023 NFL Draft| Real Bucs Talk

+ Can toss TEs to the outside and step right into the C-gap to wrap up ballcarriers on off-tackle runs

+ Georgia put an extra defender outside of Smith at times, where he was in like a 7-/8-alignment, yet was able to point the inside foot horizontally and slant across the tackle’s face almost cleanly to track down the back running the other way, covering an insane amount of grass in a couple of steps

+ Doesn’t shy away from taking the direct angle and crashing into pulling guards, who have nearly 100 pounds of weight on him at times, where it can actually be those guys taking the worst of the collision

+ Such a hyperactive player overall who tries to find ways to affect plays and being involved in 53 total tackles in 2021 across 499 snaps is indicative of that ... His effort and speed in pursuit are excellent

+ Has elite acceleration off the ball with great snap anticipation in designated passing situations

+ Packs a nice two-handed sideswipe to defeat the hands of tackles and flatten towards the quarterback

+ Has shown he can win inside and out, at times tilting his rush on purpose, to give himself that two-way go, plus then he can hit those sudden shoulder dips to reduce the surface area for blockers

+ The same thing I mentioned with slants towards the B-gap, how much ground he covers laterally with that one step to slice inside on up-and-unders really stands out at times

+ Shows the quick change-of-direction to get back to his contain responsibility, after initially trying to find a path inside as a rusher

+ Displays that reactionary suddenness to take the B-gap when he realizes it’s open, at times when the O-line is busy with selling the run-fake

+ While the sample size was obviously a lot smaller for Smith, his 18.6% pressure-per-rush was actually the best of his career (19 on 102 pass-rush snaps) and PFF awarded him with a pass-rush win rate of 25.5%

+ Shows good patience as a zone-dropper and seems to understand where his eyes should be and has a couple of snaps where he carries the tight end towards the safety

+ Put up the second-fastest 40 time among edge defenders in combine history (4.39), with an insane 1.52 10-yard split


– His size measurables are all in the bottom-17th percentile, playing at a slender 235 pounds (especially at the core and hips) with arms below 33 inches and just nine-inch hands

– Could still do a better job of getting his base pointed towards where the ball is coming from and shifting his weight into the blocker

– Too narrow in his two-point stances and necessitates a slight step backwards when trying to get off the ball

– Lacks a little bit of that power element to take advantage of tackles getting tall and onto their heels by converting his speed into force

– Overall his pass-rush toolbox could still expand, heavily relying on his speed to win around the edge and not showing reliable counters off it

(Video) NFL Draft Class 2023: Nolan Smith – Breaking down the top defenders for the 2023 NFL Draft!


This is one of the best pure football players in this entire draft. When you come to Georgia, you’re not going to blow people away with insane sack production, because you're rarely allowed to just line up wide and attack up the field.

I don’t believe he’s going to be a legit alpha pass rusher, but he’ll give you everything he has throwing his body around in traffic. He’ll make some key plays when peeled off in coverage, and he’s going to be a leader for your defense vocally as well as by example.

I’m interested to see if he can become more impactful when he transitions to power, because going forward and laterally, he can certainly stress tackles, but it’s that threat of being able to go through those guys that he hasn’t really shown yet.

Grade: Late first round

Feel free to head over to halilsrealfootballtalk.com for all my draft breakdowns and check out my YouTube channel for even more NFL content!

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(Video) Nolan Smith: A star in the making? | EDGE Georgia | Film Breakdown

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