2022 Summer Scouting: Nolan Smith, edge, Georgia

Ernie Accorsi espoused valuable knowledge regarding the importance of pass rushers – you can never have too many of them. The New York Giants spent first- and second-round picks in the last two drafts on edge defenders to bolster their pass rush, but more high draft capital could still be invested in 2023.

GM Joe Schoen worked under Brandon Beane in Buffalo, and the Bills spent many recent high picks on players who can pressure the quarterback. Georgia edge Nolan Smith has the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Smith was the first overall recruit in the 2019 cycle; over Kayvon Thibodeaux, Derek Stingley Jr., and Evan Neal, with whom he was teammates with at IMG Academy in Florida.

Smith took over the Azeez Ojulari role in Georgia’s defense. Georgia’s defensive front rotates often with the embarrassment of riches in depth the Bulldogs possess. Smith’s numbers might not be as impressive as others throughout college football, but he is one of the most interesting pass rushers heading into the 2022 season.

Nolan Smith, edge

Georgia: Junior
Height: 6-foot-3 (listed)
Weight: 235 lbs (listed)

2021 Stats

Games Played: 12
Tackles: 49
Tackles For a Loss: 13.0
Missed Tackle Percentage: 8.5%
Sacks: 4.5
Pressures: 28
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes Defensed: 1
Interceptions: 1

Game Tape

Strengths

  • Excellent athletic ability
  • Burst, COD, agility, fluidity in space are all very good
  • Very explosive first three steps
  • Maintains low leverage when moving forward
  • Very active hands, a great double swipe move
  • Solid array of pass-rushing moves
  • Brings violence to the game
  • Good overall run defender
  • Excellent motor
  • Extends with good pop in his hands and low hips to set the EDGE
  • Potential to be a great all-around player who can be a top five pick with a bit more refinement

Weaknesses

  • Could use refinement consistency (timing, placement of hands)
  • Was out leveraged in the run game when his punch was off and he allowed his hips to rise
  • Can convert speed to power, but not overly consistent yet

Why is he a top prospect?

Smith is an incredible athlete with excellent quickness and an explosive first step. Smith wins with speed and quickness while flashing active hands and an array of pass-rushing moves. He reportedly already ran a 4.51 40-yard dash with a 4.15 short shuttle, and a 39.6 inch vertical jump while at IMG. Great overall movement skills and lower body explosiveness are evident on tape.

Smith’s primary pass-rushing move is a double swipe that gets him hip to hip and allows him to corner through tackle’s outside shoulders. He has the ability to get to his counter moves and he can convert speed to power. He has a solid overall bull-rush and lower leg drive when he lands his hands on the breastplate of OTs and drives his feet with low hips and excellent leverage.

Smith has good pop in his hands to shock, and strong hands to disengage. His change of direction skills and short-area burst are very fluid and quick, and he possesses the ability to bend functionally at the ankles and hips while maintaining momentum. He has silly lateral agility to cross the face of an offensive lineman as a penetrator or looper in twist games. Smith is s already a good pass rusher, and still has room for development and growth.

Smith keys the ball well and fires off the line of scrimmage with good leverage, ready to attack. He does an excellent job attacking the wrists and biceps of OTs while moving up the arc with hast. Solid overall job adjusting his pass rush plan; is a smart overall player who has good overall competitive toughness.

A physical run defender, Smith aggressively uses the wrong arm or the spill technique in a violent fashion to keep rushing lanes narrow on trap/wham/rim type of blocks. He can set the EDGE with good extension and a solid overall ability to keep his chest clean. Good in 1-on-1 situations against offensive tackles. Smith leverages quickness to evade block in space. Smith is excellent in pursuit and brings violence to the tackle point.

Aligned as a linebacker and displayed solid overall movement skills in space. Has fluid hips and the ability to flip and turn in his transitions. His athletic ability and overall strength provide versatility, dependability, and a very interesting option as a prospect heading into 2022.

What to improve for 2022?

Smith’s ankle flexion is fine at the top of the pass-rushing arc, but if OTs are able to get good contact on him as he attempts to corner he doesn’t always maintain balance. His aiming points with his hands can be a bit inconsistent at times. Smith is great in pursuit, but he did take some disadvantageous angles that he may not get away with at the next level. Smith also is only adequate against double-team blocks. Smith figures to be a 3-4 OLB at the next level.

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