The NFL Draft Case of Nolan Smith: The next top Bulldog to take the NFL by storm.

Any football fan in America knows this fact, the Georgia Bulldogs were ridiculously good on defense in their back to back National Championship run. The 2021-22 Georgia Bulldogs have an argument as one of the best college football defenses of all time. The defense was dominant. Suffocating opposing offenses to lead the university to it’s first national title in over 40 years. Then the 2022 NFL draft happened. Five Georgia defensive players were taken in the first round, including the top overall pick, Travon Walker. In most years, losing that amount of talent would mean a program might take a step back to reload the amount of NFL talent lost. Not Georgia. The 2022-23 Georgia Bulldogs continued to have an electric defense on their way to winning their second national title. In two years in absolute dominant fashion, one Bulldog roamed the yard in Athens: Nolan Smith.

An Elite Defensive Prospect

In 2019, Nolan Smith was the number one overall recruit in the class. A 6’3 pass rushing monster out of Savannah Georgia, who attended the IMG academy in Florida, held offers from every major program in College Football. He decided to join the Georgia Bulldogs to start the build to one of the most potent college defenses the nation has ever seen. Nolan Smith enrolled early at Athens and started to learn the complex Georgia system. A system that was built to produce NFL Talent. As a Freshman, Smith saw action in 11 games during the 2019 season. Producing two and a half sacks as a reserve. His sophomore season was cut short as he would appear in only seven games. He produced 21 tackles and again had two and a half sacks. While these were nice numbers, they lacked the impact expected out of the top high school player moving to the next level.

Nolan Smith attacking the Clemson offense.

A Once in a Generation Defense

Prior to the 2021 season, Georgia had fell short of a National Title for over 40 years. Georgia had gotten close, but could never finish the deal to finally end the drought. That all changed in 2021 as the Bulldogs put together one of the greatest college defenses of all time. Nolan Smith became one of the leaders on that defense. His size and speed allowed him to track down players in the open field. He could come off the edge as the stout Georgia line would eat up blockers allowing him to pin his ears back and attack the Quarterback.

To start the season, Georgia faced an early challenge in Clemson. While offense was at a premium during that game, Nolan Smith showed why he could easily be a star in the Bulldog defense. Throughout the season, it was clear that Georgia had a once in a generation defense. Nolan Smith was one of the biggest factors on a defense that produced five first round picks in the 2022 draft. Nolan Smith’s truly showed itself late in the season when Georgia needed him the most. In the College Football Playoff, Smith had 15 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and a forced fumble.

These stats pop even more because of the defense talent that was already on the Georgia defense. In comparison with Travon Walker, the number 1 overall pick in 2022, he outperformed him in that span. Walker had 5 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks. Then there was the 22nd overall pick, fellow linebacker Quay Walker. Walker had 14 tackles but only 1 tackle for a loss. The goal is not to diminish the accomplishments of the Walkers, its to show how a player like Nolan Smith contributed to a Georgia defense that ended the title drought.

Georgia winning the National Championship against Alabama

An injury plagues the senior season

A lot of people were probably pretty shocked to see Nolan Smith return to Georgia for his senior season. No one would have blamed him if he decided to join his teammates in the NFL, but Smith wanted to run it back in college. Unfortunately, scouts only got to watch him for eight games in 2022 due to a torn pectoral muscle. Smith had 3 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss in his shorten season. After the Florida game, Smith had to watch Georgia win a second National Title from the sidelines. His true future was to be playing on Sundays in the NFL.

A Top Tier NFL Linebacker

NFL defenses have shifted over the past twenty years. Gone are the days where teams have three to four linebackers on the field almost every down. The NFL has shift to coverage packages to adjust to the increase of passing attacks league wide. This would make some people believe that the linebacker position has started to become undervalued league wide. Nolan Smith is similar to Bijan Robinson, he’s the exception to the rule on devalued positions in the NFL. Nolan Smith is an athletic marvel shown at the NFL combine. His 4.39 40-yard dash was ridiculous for a linebacker/edge rusher. He had the fastest time amongst linebackers and defensive ends. Only three running backs and five wide receivers had a faster time than Smith. Smith has sideline to sideline speed that many NFL franchises covet. Even better, Nolan Smith’s 10-yard split was 1.52 seconds, showing an impressive burst for a pass rusher. Again, Smith has the top 10-yard split for all linebackers and edge rushers.

NFL Future

As a high school recruit, Nolan Smith reminded scouts of a young Khalil Mack, Bobby Wagner or Patrick Willis. The main criticism against Nolan Smith is that he was not a stat machine while at Georgia. It’s difficult not to cut him a break due to the sheer amount of talent that was on the Georgia defense during his college career. The Georgia defense allowed all of the stars to shine. Nolan Smith has the speed and toughness that should have NFL scouts drooling. He’s been well coached at Georgia and played in the NFL schemed defense. Nolan Smith is probably one of the most debated defensive prospects in the NFL draft. Some experts could see him going in the Top 10 to the back half of the first round. In our full first round mock, our producer Drew selected Nolan Smith to the Jacksonville Jaguars to complete the defense makeover at 24. His speed and toughness would be a huge draw for Pittsburgh fans as well. Wherever Nolan Smith goes in the first round, that fan base will be getting an incredible linebacker/edge rusher prospect. He’ll be living up to the Bulldog mentality at the NFL level.

About SHappel

Hosts The Irrational Confidence Podcast with Fresh.

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