April 28, 2023
In the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles added a pair of Georgia defenders in DT Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith. We'll find out in time how good each player will be in the NFL, but for now let's grade each move on the process of the acquisitions.
The evaluation of Carter as a player is easy. He's powerful, as you would expect of a 314-pound DT, but it's his explosiveness, speed, and change of direction ability that sets him apart, as most analysts believe he is the most talented prospect in this draft class.
Against the run, he can anchor and two-gap, he can chase in pursuit from sideline to sideline, and he can smash single-blocks and make plays in the backfield. On early downs, he can help the Eagles allocate fewer resources toward stopping the run, and play coverage on the back end.
As a pass rusher, Carter's stats aren't eye-popping (3 sacks, 3 batted passes, 2 forced fumbles in 2022), but it's clear to see that he has the ability in his body to get to the quarterback. Again, he can beat single blocks with raw power, but you can also get creative looping him around the edge because of his speed and explosiveness.
As far as scheme fit, Carter can play in any defense, as you can line him up anywhere along the interior, from tackle-to-tackle. I'm sure you've watched highlights of him by now, but in case not, here you go:
My favorite moment from the video above:
Favorite Jalen Carter highlight: He lifts the LSU QB off the ground, hears the play blown dead, and he celebrates his sack by continuing to hold his trophy with one arm while raising his other arm. pic.twitter.com/Iwkybjn6Zb— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) April 28, 2023
Again, the evaluation of Carter as a player is pretty easy. Of course, he would not have made it to pick No. 9 if not for significant maturity red flags, most notably that he was at the scene of car racing incident in which teammate Devin Willock and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy were killed. Carter subsequently had an alarming pro day performance during which he looked sluggish and out of shape while running through drills. It will be the Eagles' ability to identify whether Carter can maximize his potential that will ultimately decide the success or failure of this selection.
"He didn't have the spring that he wanted to have," Howie Roseman said. "I mean obviously starting with that event. I think the event and the issues surrounding it, I think they derailed him this spring. The first thing he said to us was, 'You tell me what I need to do.' I think he's a proud guy, and he wants to show people what kind of player he is and what kind of person he is, but he's got to do that with his actions."
The Eagles have built a strong culture, which now begins with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, and is spread all throughout the locker room with veteran leaders like Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, and others. Roseman believes that the Eagles can rely on their veteran players to help guide Carter as he navigates life in the NFL.
"We have good people," he said, "and we have a good locker room, and [Chief Security Officer] Dom [DiSandro] told me today he had spoken to a bunch of our guys, and they embrace the opportunity to rally around each other and to rally around young players and to show them the way. I think that's what really legacy is about, and I think these guys understand that, and it makes me even more proud about our players."
Drafting a player at 9 with Carter's character concerns is a risk, but it's one that a team like the Eagles perhaps deserve the benefit of the doubt on, given the strong leadership in their building. A team like the Eagles can roll the dice on troubled-but-talented player in the draft, whereas other teams might not have the same confidence that they can make it work.
The Eagles could have selected Smith at their original spot at pick No. 10, and most wouldn't have blinked, given that Smith is arguably the most impressive athlete in the draft. He was the most commonly mocked player to the Eagles at 10 both by the local beats and the national media.
He ran an absurd 4.39 40 and vertical jumped 41 1/2" at 238 pounds. Spider chart goodness:
But Smith isn't just an athlete. He was a physical run defender willing to set the edge so that his teammates at Georgia could collect tackles. He is also widely viewed as a player with sterling character and leadership skills who will be able to fit into any locker room.
Smith was commonly comped to Haason Reddick in the leadup to the draft, which led to some wondering, "Well if the Eagles already have the real Haason Reddick, why draft a guy with a very similar skill set?" The following includes some deeper insight into Smith's potential fit within Sean Desai's defense, from a week before the draft:
The more I watch Nolan Smith, the more I like him and his fit within the Eagles’ scheme. These are some of the notes I took from watching him yesterday. pic.twitter.com/fUgv8ZwzUm— Honest NFL (@TheHonestNFL) April 20, 2023
In addition to being a common projection at pick 10, Smith was rated highly by most draft analysts. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network had him ranked 13th. Dane Brugler of The Athletic had him ranked 11th. Mel Kiper had him ranked 12th.
As the first round unfolded, Smith fell, and fell, and fell some more, until a point where the Eagles had to have considered trading up to grab him. But they were disciplined, and Smith somehow made it all the way to pick No. 30. Here's footage of Roseman watching Smith fall from pick 26 to 27 to 28 to 29 in the war room:
Howie watching Nolan Smith fall to 26, 27, 28, 29, and resisting the urge to trade up... pic.twitter.com/Lwe3G8o6Wl— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) April 28, 2023
So why did Smith fall? Roseman was asked that question, and whether it was due to a medical red flag stemming from a pectoral issue that ended his 2022 season at Georgia.
"No, he's healthy with the pec," Roseman said. "I think when you get into the first round, some teams, you pick who you like and you pick what you're looking for there. It would be hard for me to kind of say what other teams are thinking, and I'm sure every team is happy who they got in the first round."
Certainly, Smith is undersized, and his lack of ideal production played a part. If he had a 10-sack season under his belt, there's no way in hell he'd have gotten out of the top 10-12 picks. His best season was in 2021, when he had 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and an INT. That's a good season statistically on a loaded Georgia defense, but there were other pass rushers like Iowa State' Will McDonald who had better production, and guys like Clemson's Myles Murphy or Iowa's Lukas Van Ness who have better size. In time we'll see who got the best player, but at pick 30 it's hard to view this as anything other than a potential steal for a player universally ranked in the top 15.
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