Nolan Smith makes huge leap in noted NFL Draft big board

Outside linebacker Nolan Smith from Georgia speaks about his late teammate, Devin Willock, at the NFL combine in March 1, 2023 in IndianapolisNolan Devin
Outside linebacker Nolan Smith from Georgia speaks about his late teammate, Devin Willock, at the NFL combine in March 1, 2023 in IndianapolisNolan Devin /

Nolan Smith had one heck of a performance at the NFL Combine, and ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay took notice. 

Everyone associated with the Georgia football program knows just how good linebacker Nolan Smith really is. Until his injury in 2022, he was considered by most to be the best player on one of the best defenses in the country.

But a torn pectoral muscle sidelined Smith for the second half of the 2022 season and most NFL Draft experts kinda-sorta forgot about him. The focus turned, and rightfully so, to Jalen Carter and other top defensive players in the nation.

The pace Smith was on in 2022 wasn’t record-breaking by any stretch. In eight games he amassed 18 total tackles (14 solo), seven tackles for a loss, and three sacks. Solid numbers but not outstanding.

But Smith brings much more to the field when he plays. He’s the general. The field marshall. The defensive play-caller. He’s the guy who makes sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be and he instinctively knows where the ball is going to be.

That kind of talent can’t be taught. It’s a gift and Smith used it to its maximum potential.

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Fast forward to March and the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, where there were still lingering questions about Nolan Smith and if he had fully recovered from his injury. He answered all those questions and more with his performance on the field and during his interviews.

Smith set himself apart as a truly athletic, instinctive, and intelligent football player who was going to step in with some NFL team and make an impact immediately.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay always thought highly of Smith, but never graded him as a sure-fire first-round pick. That all changed after the NFL Combine.

Prior to Smith’s performance in Indianapolis, McShay had Smith graded outside the first round, most likely an early to mid-second round pick. In his latest big board update, McShay now has Nolan Smith listed as his No. 10 prospect.

From outside the first round to number ten overall. That’s a huge leap. In his assessment of Smith, McShay had this to say:

"“Smith is a menacing run defender, though. He creates a lot of havoc with how quickly he penetrates the backfield, and while he lacks size, he more than makes up for it with excellent leverage and hand placement. He sets a hard edge, has snappy hands to disengage quickly and shows excellent change-of-direction quickness.”"

Tell us something Georgia fans don’t already know, Todd.

Just prognosticating based on McShay’s grade, if Smith did go with the number ten pick in the draft the way things stand right now, he’d be picked by…

The Philadelphia Eagles.

That’s right. The same Eagles who just went to the Super Bowl and whose defense surrendered a big lead in the second half to the Kansas City Chiefs. The same Eagles who last year drafted former Georgia stars Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.

Imagine that reunion.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the NFL Combine isn’t important and that teams already have their minds made up about certain players. We’ve seen players go into a draft freefall because of what they did or said at the combine, and in Nolan Smith’s case, we may see him catapulted into a top-ten pick.

Incidentally, Jalen Carter’s recent legal entanglements had McShay drop him from No. 3 overall to No. 13.

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