NAME: Nolan Smith
HEIGHT: 6′ 3″
WEIGHT: 235 lbs
HOMETOWN: Savannah, Ga.
Nolan Smith has flown under the radar of many during his time at UGA simply due to the sheer number of star-studded quality players they have had on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. However in 2019 as a freshman, he co-won Defensive Newcomer of the Year for UGA, then in 2020 played a major role in all 10 games. 2021 has been Smith’s breakout season, starting at OLB for all 8 games to this point and winning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week twice for great performances against South Carolina and Florida. In the latter game, he had his first forced fumble, fumble recovery, and interception for the Bulldogs in a 39 second span during the 2nd quarter.
Smith gets off the edge so quickly and poses a problem on speed rushes for offensive tackles. Also has good lateral and straight line speed, which allows him to track RBs and scrape around the OL well to make crucial TFLs. He has good body control due to nice mechanics, he could get a little lower pad level when taking on blocks, but always maintains control of his actions.
In terms of strength and brute power, Smith is nothing to write home about, but he has the required upper and lower body strength to succeed in the NFL. As long as he still has the speed-rush as his predominant weapon and can lower his shoulder to disrupt the run game, strength will not be an issue at the next level, however I would like to see some added bulk to add a new element to his game.
His hip flexibility is great which allows him to bend inside and outside so well on those effective speed rushes. This combined with the speed I mentioned leads to such success rushing the passer, but also allows a quick change of direction, useful for man coverage assignments or dropping into a flat zone near the sideline.
Tackling and Pursuit
The things that really appealed to me on film were: 1) how dominant he is during the tackle and always aiming to drive north to south to stop the player from gaining anymore ground and 2) how he simply doesn’t miss a tackle – he flies around all game and is in the right place to clean up and make solid tackles. Occasionally he is so eager to make the tackle, he takes slightly shallow pursuit angles but he still always makes the tackle.
He sets the edge perfectly which is what UGA ask of their OLBs; it’s a shame we don’t get to see how aggressive he can really attack B-gaps etc. but that is simply a product of their scheme. He is never out of position but sheds well when necessary to prevent the RB from bouncing the run outside.
His disengaging makes it a real problem to block consistently as he is very aggressive with how he rips the OL behind him when he pass rushes. Great use of the hands and always gets really good placement to control the OT. As I mentioned his speciality is the speed rush, but he also has a nice counter move to the inside which he sets up well with a hard jab-step to the outside.
He is very proficient in coverage and is an area of his game that is probably the most improved since when he came in as a freshman. He gets depth in zone coverage very quickly and still scans in the backfield so he can see anything coming his way and he is rarely asked to stick with RB in man coverage, but on the rare occasion he is, he didn’t allow a great deal of separation.
He reads plays really well and has great patience to let blocks develop in front of his eyes to try and target the best hole or work out the best pass rush weapon for the situation to use.
FINAL GRADE: 81/100 – Late 2nd Round
NFL COMPARISON: Robert Quinn
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