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April 28, 2023

Highlights, scouting reports and more on Nolan Smith, Eagles pick at No. 30

Should we start calling Philadelphia the Georgia of the northeast? Nolan Smith, who the Eagles brought in with pick No. 30 in the 2023 NFL Draft, is the fourth impact player the Eagles have snagged from the Bulldogs' elite defense in the last two seasons, as the Eagles look to build on the pass-rushing success they had last season.

As the Eagles continue their quest to rebuild an elite Georgia Bulldogs defense at the NFL level, we take a look at what Smith has to offer. 

Highlights and lowlights

The bet on Smith is not dissimilar to Philadelphia’s free agency investment in Haason Reddick. While a bit light for an edge rusher, Smith has some undeniable tools to power him to success at the NFL level.

How’s this for a start: Smith had the fastest 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and 10-yard split of any front-seven player at this year’s draft combine. Those tools would be enough to create intrigue among NFL talent evaluators, but Smith’s value comes from combining those gifts with an elite motor on the field. The words you’ve seen thrown around describing Smith are exactly what you’d want to see from a player from the coach’s chair: tough, aggressive, emotional, energetic, ferocious. That all shows up on tape:

The question for Smith to answer at the next level has been asked of countless prospects all over the field. Once your speed advantages shrink and your competitive fire is not enough to win the day, can you find ways to win at the point of attack? Smith will face bigger, faster players at the next level, and will have to find ways to win that don't revolve around his speed. There are questions about his raw production at Georgia, particularly when it comes to rushing the quarterback, though smarter scouts have pointed out that this could be a quirk of role/scheme playing for the Dawgs.

Where the Eagles can find solace is in the story of his new teammate Reddick, who has been a major success despite facing many of the same questions. Reddick’s own path to making an impact was a bit uneven due to how he was used early in his career, with Reddick only turned loose as a pass rusher after three uneventful years in the league. The Eagles have the blueprint, which should help Smith get off to a quicker start.

Falling this far seems to suggest there could be concern about his health and durability at the next level, and Smith's final season at Georgia came to an end in November as a result of a torn pectoral muscle. The Eagles have taken swings on some big talents with questionable medical sheets in the past, most notably when they drafted Sidney Jones after he tore an Achilles during his pro day at Washington. Pretending like we can know if Smith's body will hold up at this level would be pure guessing, but it'll be a factor in his NFL journey.

The scouts take

Let's check in with a couple of scouts on the latest Dawg to join the team. Here's Lance Zierlein at

Lower weight class edge defender with the toughness to mix it up with bigger players. Based purely upon his sleek but smallish frame, one might expect him to be more effective as a rusher than run defender but the opposite is true. Smith is hard to move off of his spot due to his technique and leverage, and he can be disruptive when firing into gaps. He can get off the mark as a rusher, but lacks the counters and contact balance to consistently assault the pocket at a high rate. Smith falls below the size standards some team might have for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he plays team-first defense with quality technique that should help him translate to the pros. []
Another look from Ian Cummings at Pro Football Network, who admits Smith could be somewhat of a project despite his reputation and his college team's success. That said, he's in the bullish camp for Smith:

In a modern NFL where coaches are becoming more and more open to versatility, Smith could perfectly fit the mold of a hybrid outside linebacker with SAM and on-ball pass-rushing capabilities. His elite athleticism can buoy a drastic ascent as a pass-rushing threat, both one-on-one against tackles and as a blitzer. And that same athleticism can allow Smith to be a space defender, as well as destroy outside gaps in run defense. Even after a long career at Georgia, Smith is still more of a projection than one would prefer. However, few, if any, prospects have the same athleticism, bend, and size-relative strength that Smith has. And in the right hands, he can be an invaluable defensive piece. [Pro Football Network]

The short version of the story with Smith is that he has the base for a player who could wreak havoc on the field for Philadelphia, particularly as you consider how much help he has around him to minimize his weaknesses. With big, athletic freaks in the middle of the Eagles' line (including two former Dawgs teammates), Smith should be able to maximize his impact as a run defender and sharpen his tool kit as a pass rusher, learning from a guy like Reddick as he grows into a bigger role.

It's not hard to see why the Eagles would be excited about his tools and the potential to mold him into something special at the next level. By all accounts, he's also a high character, high motor guy who will get the most out of what he has, helping to preserve an Eagles culture that has been built by hard-charging players like Smith on both sides of the ball.

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