As of last Monday, the 2023 NFL Combine is officially in the books! Future NFL stars showed off their athletic skills in numerous tests, and one of the biggest performers was Georgia’s 6’3″ 235 lb. linebacker Nolan Smith. Smith’s draft stock looks to be locked into the first round, so let’s dive into his tape and see what Smith will bring to an NFL team!
Strengths: Smith is an incredible athlete with blazing speed off the edge, as his 40-yard dash time of 4.39 proves. He immediately gains an advantage with his first-step quickness. At the top of his rush, Smith shows elite bend to flatten to the quarterback. He is really agile as well, showing the ability to bounce to the tackle’s inside shoulder and shoot a gap to pressure the quarterback. Smith did a good job of getting stronger between the 2021 and 2022 seasons, as his 2022 tape shows a player who, despite being undersized, resists contact well in his pass rush. He uses his length and hand strength to stay off blocks well. Smith also uses his nifty agility to slide under contact often to avoid blocks. He excels as a run defender too, especially when kept in space and allowed to make reads. Smith shows great closing burst and range to chase the ball carrier down, as well as good change of direction and hip fluidity to tackle athletic ball carriers in the open field. He diagnoses run plays well and can blow them up at the mesh point. Smith is a reliable tackler.
Georgia DE Nolan Smith just ran an unofficial 4.44 40-yard dash at 6'2 and 238 pounds. 🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/qPR4i7B6ev
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) March 2, 2023
Weaknesses: Smith is an undersized player who is not particularly powerful. Though he does not get pushed around, he is not powerful enough to have a quality bull rush in his toolkit. Against the run, it is smarter to keep him in space than to ask him to stack and shed in the trenches against much bigger, strong players. Smith needs to refine his pass-rush ability and develop reliable pass-rush moves to become more consistent and to turn disruptiveness into productivity in the NFL.
Bottom Line: Smith was the start of the NFL combine, displaying elite athleticism that certainly shows up on tape. His burst and bend around the edge are elite and he is strong enough to resist contact and not get locked up on a block in his pass rush. Smith needs to develop his pass-rush arsenal, though, to be a big-time producer as a pass-rusher in the NFL. Given his slight frame, Smith should be used more in space than at the point of attack in the run game, which allows him to use his high football IQ and reactive athleticism to his advantage. Smith is a really intriguing prospect with a high and realistic ceiling in the NFL.