Why the Slide?: Nolan Smith, DE, Georgia

Our “Why the Slide” series parallels and grew out our “Why Undrafted” series. The latter was created a number of years ago in response to your questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For both series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Throughout his college career and into the months leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, there was always a lot of hype about Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith. Smith never lived up to the hype, but that never stopped the media from talking him up as a pass-rushing phenom. In 2020, he recorded 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks while playing in a heavy rotation. Smith then turned his best season in 2021, recording 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles. In 2022, Smith dealt with injuries that limited him to eight games and totaled 18 tackles, three sacks and a pass batted. At the end of October, Smith went out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Smith got the hype machine cranked up again when had an electric performance at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, where he blazed a shocking 4.39-second time in the 40-yard dash. That time caused many to project Smith to go in the first round, but he nearly slipped out of the first night before ending up as the 30th-overall selection.

Team sources from around the NFL told WalterFootball.com that there were many teams with second-round grades on Smith. They cited a number of reasons, including him being very undersized to be a pro edge rusher at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds. They felt Smith could struggle to get off blocks due to his lack of size and length. Sources also discussed that Smith never produced very much in college and also only played 20-30 percent of the snaps when healthy. Thus, many had him graded after Round 1.

The Philadelphia Eagles ended Smith’s fall late in the first round, and that was a good landing spot for him because he will be reunited with former Georgia teammates such as Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Nakobe Dean. The Eagles also have a big need for young pass-rushing talent because Brandon Graham won’t be able to play forever. Smith can learn and develop while rotating with Graham in 2023, and then take over as a starter across from Haason Reddick in 2024. Reddick has some size and speed similarities to Smith, so the Eagles have a good idea of how to use Smith to mask his limitations and maximize his strengths. While Smith may have been disappointed with his slide, he ended up in a nice landing spot in Philadelphia.

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