Nolan Smith draft profile

In recent mock drafts, both Dane Brugler and Luke Easterling have the Rams taking Georgia EDGE rusher, Nolan Smith, in the 2nd round. One of the top draft need cited for the Rams this year is at EDGE. Many Rams fans feel that the defense lacked sufficient pass rush pressure coming from the OLBs to help Aaron Donald. On paper, selecting Smith makes perfect sense and the value looks great. Daniel Jeremiah's mock has Smith going 15th overall to the Packers. DJ says that Smith has elite burst and change of direction, comparing him to Haason Reddick, who was the 13th overall pick in 2017.

Reddick was an undersized pass rusher, weighing 237 pounds and standing 6'1.5'' tall. Early in his career, Reddick was considered to be a draft bust and Arizona switched him back and forth between playing as a stand up ILB and as an EDGE rusher, unsure where he best fit. As a rookie, he had a 47.6 PFF grade, one of the worst among all the 1st round picks that year. When Arizona tried to move him to ILB, the experiment was a dismal failure. Reddick finally emerged in his 4th NFL season and over the last 3 years has accumulated a total of 39.5 sacks. Playing for the Eagles in 2022, Reddick had a 81.1 PFF grade.

Using a 2nd round pick to land an EDGE defender who some of the best known draft experts rank as a middle of the 1st round talent, that seems like it would be a no-brainer, right? I'm not so sure. I feel that drafting Nolan Smith in the early rounds could lead to disappointing results.

In my opinion, Baron Browning was a better prospect than Nolan Smith. Browning was the very last pick in the 3rd round in 2021, a compensatory selection. Browning was 6'3 1/8'' tall, 241 pounds at the Combine with 33 1/2'' arms, 10'' hands and an 81'' wingspan. At his pro day, he was timed as low as 4.51 seconds in the 40. He also had fantastic numbers in some of the other events, with a 40'' vert jump, 10'10'' broad jump and 6.78 second time in the 3 cone.

At Ohio State, Browning was a starter at multiple LB spots, both at ILB and at OLB. He was a 5 star recruit, one of the top high school recruits in the country. I had a 3rd round grade on him, consistent with where draft experts had him ranked. I said that he was a better prospect than Samson Ebukam.

Summarizing how I evaluated Browning at the time, he had solid instincts and technique as a pass rusher, good counter spin move, understands how to loop and stunt, closing burst to the QB, has both speed and power as pass rusher. Sets hard edge vs run, good pursuit range. Excellent coverage ability both in zone and in man. Poor on field awareness and recognition, gets fooled and gets out of position. Overly aggressive. A glue guy who might never have a big sack total. Ready to play immediately.

As a rookie with the Denver Broncos, Browning was pressed into action as an ILB due to injuries to multiple other LBs. He had a 54.9 PFF grade that year. He had zero sacks. In 2022, he moved back to his more natural OLB spot and was used as a pass rusher. Browning had a fantastic preseason, posting a 77.8 PFF grade. He showed a full repertoire of pass rush skills.

During the regular season, Browning had an unbelievable game against the Colts where he had 10 QB pressures on 20 pass rushing snaps. According to PFF, he had the highest single game pressure rate and pass rush win rate ever recorded for a player with at least 20 pass rushing snaps. The momentum from that fantastic performance and his preseason domination didn't carry through the rest of the 2022 season. He had a 55.3 PFF grade, ranking as one of the worst EDGE defenders in the NFL, 101st out of 120 qualifying players. He had 5 sacks in 2022.

In college, Browning was physical and strong setting the edge. In the NFL, he has struggled to hold his ground against bigger offensive tackles. He's also gotten fooled easily, gotten out of position and given up big plays. As a pass rusher, he's flashed elite speed, agility and bend. He had a couple of huge performances against weaker offensive lines, but hasn't been able to consistently generate sacks. Browning also has had issues staying healthy, with a variety of injuries including to his lower leg, back, wrist and hip, missing multiple games and impacting his production. I still think that Browning has the potential to be a good player, but to this point the results have been mediocre.

Nolan Smith is not Leonard Floyd, who played at Georgia. Floyd was a very versatile LB in college and as a pass rusher he was very athletic and slippery, difficult to block. Floyd was the 9th overall pick in 2016. He had a pec injury during the pre-draft process. Floyd was a very thin player, only 244 pounds, despite being nearly 6'6'' tall. His wiry frame and play strength raised doubts about whether he'd be able to hold up against NFL offensive linemen. Mike Mayock at the Combine expressed concerns that Floyd struggled as a run defender and got stalled as a pass rusher when he faced quality offensive tackles. SteelersDepot did a profile on Floyd, saying that the Steelers should not draft Floyd earlier than the 3rd round. The Rams currently list Floyd at 240 pounds, so amazingly he weighs less than he did during the draft.

Floyd flashed early for the Chicago Bears with 7 sacks as a rookie, creating hope that he would become one of the top young pass rushers in the NFL, but over the following years he became regarded as a 1st round disappointment, a borderline bust. He failed to produce sacks and often was tasked with pass coverage and other "dirty work" in a role similar to what Ebukam was doing for the Rams. The final 3 years with the Bears, Floyd only had a total of 11.5 sacks. In 3 years with the Rams, Floyd has 29 sacks, an average of nearly 10 per season.

I do not project Smith to be as good a pass rusher as Floyd. In terms of overall athleticism, there's a big difference between Floyd and Smith. It is very misleading to just look at their 40 times. Floyd at UGA was a 240 pound player who had the explosiveness and agility of a 220 pound player. Smith is a 235 pound player who moves around the field more like he's a 265 pound player.

There is a tendency in the NFL Draft to be hypnotized by "group think", to just go along with the rest of the herd. If everyone else keeps saying the same thing over and over, it must be true, right? To take a contrary point of view feels like swimming upstream. You begin to doubt yourself and wonder what everyone else sees that you're missing. Why don't I want the Rams to draft Nolan Smith in the 2nd round?

1. Rams fans want more pass rush from the defensive front. All the draft experts say that Nolan Smith is a good run defender. They think he's a work in progress as a pass rusher. In today's NFL, you don't spend a high pick to get a run defending EDGE. What makes an EDGE truly valuable is if he's good at getting to the QB. Smith might play EDGE, but does he fill the actual team need for the Rams? No, he doesn't.

2. The experts say that Smith has the potential to become a good pass rusher. Sometimes, I don't know what that word even means. On some level, don't many players who get drafted have the potential to be good? Baron Browning has the potential to be a good pass rusher. He might have more potential than Smith. Daniel Hardy has the potential to be a good pass rusher. Michael Hoecht and Jonah Williams have the potential to be good pass rushers. Dion Jordan had much better potential than Nolan Smith to be a top pass rusher. If you watch Jordan side by side with Smith, Jordan is a much more explosive athlete, with superior size and length.

3. Lance Zierlein's NFL comp for Nolan Smith is Samson Ebukam. I liked Ebukam, even when many Rams fans were ready to kick him to the curb and complained that he didn't get many sacks. He was raw and lacked technique as a pass rusher, but he had versatility, because he could set the edge well defending the run and he could line up in the slot and provide decent zone pass coverage against WRs and TEs.

Ebukam left the Rams and joined the Niners on a 2 year contract with a $6 million per year salary. Leonard Floyd has a $16 million per year salary, making $10 million more per season than Ebukam. Over the last 2 years, if you average their PFF season grades, Floyd and Ebukam have exactly the same average grade. Ebukam was a 4th round pick in 2017. I feel that he proved to be a solid value for that draft slot and if the Rams had retained him on a reasonably priced deal instead of allowing him to leave for SF, it would have been a solid investment.

That said, if Ebukam were still under a long term contract (his deal is expiring), would I trade a 2nd round pick to the Niners to acquire him? Absolutely not. He's a decent player, but he's not that good. Over the last 4 years, Ebukam has averaged about 5 sacks per year. Floyd has produced about 9 to 10 sacks per year while he's been a Ram. If you take Nolan Smith's sack rate the last 2 seasons for UGA and extrapolate it over a 17 game NFL season, do you know how many sacks he would have? 5 sacks, the same rate that Ebukam has been generating in the NFL. So, if I wouldn't trade a 2nd round pick to get Ebukam, why would I use a 2nd round pick to draft a player who potentially is just going to be very similar to Ebukam?

Two years ago, I said that Baron Browning had more potential than Ebukam. Browning was the very last pick in the 3rd round. Now, I'm saying that Smith isn't as good as Browning. The Rams could have taken Browning, but instead they went with Ernest Jones 2 slots earlier. So, instead of having one of the worst EDGE rushers in the NFL in 2022, the Rams got a solid starting ILB. Right now, would you do a trade with the Broncos to swap Jones for Browning? Maybe if you thought Browning had upside potential. Would you trade a high 2nd round pick for Browning?

4. In this draft, there's a defensive end from Harvard named Truman Jones. The same height, but weighs more (251 pounds), has longer arms and a slightly bigger wingspan. Jones studied biomedical engineering and was the team captain. He's typically ranked as an UDFA and on some boards you won't find his name at all. Why does Smith have high potential and is worthy of being a middle of the 1st round pick, but the prospect who is really smart and bigger in size ends up as an UDFA? Why doesn't Jones have potential? Oprah: "You get potential! And you get potential! Everyone gets potential!" Let's make everyone a 1st round pick, then give them all participation trophies, HOF gold jackets and orange slices.


Name: Nolan Smith. 22 years old. True senior.

School: Georgia. Math major. If I ran the NFL, I would award a compensatory pick to any team that drafted a player who earned a math degree and had at least a 3.0 GPA.

Size: Listed 6'3'' tall, 235 pounds. Per NFLDB 32 5/8'' arms, 10'' hands, 80'' wing, 4.51 sec (40 time).

5 star recruit. From Savannah, GA. Was ranked as the top or the 2nd best high school recruit by most of the major recruiting services.

The best interview skills of any player I've profiled so far in this draft. Very personable, intelligent, polite, very knowledgeable about the game, gives excellent answers to questions, comes across as a guy who might be a future NFL defensive coordinator or head coach.

Started a youth football camp back in his hometown as a way to give back to the community.

His first 2 years at UGA, Smith was a backup behind Azzez Ojulari, who was a 2nd round pick by the Giants. Ojulari was projected to be a 1st round selection, but there were reportedly medical concerns about an ACL injury he had in high school, which caused him to slip into the 2nd round. Ojulari had 8 sacks as a rookie.

Considered to have "underperformed" his first 2 years in college, Smith had a low PFF pass rushing grade against SEC opponents during those seasons. Was expected to breakout in 2021 and he did show improvement, but continued to have limited sack production. UGA had a dominant defensive front in 2021, including players such as Travon Walker, who could move between multiple spots, and Adam Anderson, who was dismissed from the team in the middle of the year. Anderson is facing a criminal trial for rape charges. Walker was the number one overall pick in the 2022 draft. He had 3.5 sacks as a rookie.

Smith played 50% of UGA's defensive snaps in 2021. He suffered an elbow injury late in the Tennessee game and missed the following week's game. He played in 8 games in 2022, but tore his right pec against Florida, ending his season. Since he got hurt in the first half, if we divide his snap count by 7 games instead of 8, he played about 27 defensive snaps per game in 2022, down from 35.6 per game in 2021.

Had a 90.6 PFF run defense grade in 2021, 82.4 run defense grade in 2022. Had a 74.5 pass rush grade in 2022. PFF says he only missed 4 tackles his entire college career. He had 113 total tackles, so that would be a 3.4% missed tackle rate, extremely low. The last 3 years, Aaron Donald has a missed tackle rate of 5.3% per PFR.

Played the "JACK linebacker" position for UGA. Typically rushed from 2 point stance aligned next to a 3 man defensive front. Sometimes from 3 pt stance. Occasionally would be in the slot. Sometimes in a zone blitz he'd drop from the LOS after the snap.

2019: 18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 TFLs

2020: 22 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 TFLs

2021(14 games): 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 FF, 1 INT, 8 TFLs

2022(8 games): 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 TFLs

ESPN 4th OLB, 42nd overall (2nd rd)

CBSSports 7th EDGE, 49th overall (2nd rd)

PFF 5th EDGE, 22nd overall (1st rd)

Shane Hallam 13th overall (1st rd)

Brian Bosarge 22nd overall (1st rd)

Drafttek 46th overall (2nd rd)

NFLDB 55th overall (2nd rd)

TDN 2nd round grade

B/R 13th overall, late 1st to 2nd round projection.

NFLDB: Flexibility to dip low, edge speed, very good in zone coverage, "crazy speed", can play any LB position. Rangy run defender, ferocious vs run. Limited sack production. Lacks size to anchor, better in pursuit. Durability concerns. Relies on speed instead of pass rush moves, overly reliant on bull rush. Takes poor angles. Has some major flaws in game.

TDN: Emotional leader for team. digs in feet, immovable object vs run. Explosive 1st step. Unrefined hands as pass rusher, not technical shedding blocks. Flexible to bend edge. One of the most physical players in college football. Tweener.

B/R: Times snap well. Nice hesitation/skip move. Hand usage improved over college career. Impressive change of direction. Dips shoulder and covers ground laterally to slant vs run plays. Physical at point of attack, violently sheds blocks, sets the edge. Holds ground against offensive tackles, stronger than his size. Good form tackler. Slow get off on run downs. Lacks power behind bull rush. Hand swipes not accurate. Not effective as looper, doesn't sell upfield move. Not comfortable dropping into coverage, covers space when in zone and struggles to stay with TEs when in man. Melvin Ingram comp.

In January of 2022, Smith was driving home from the airport at about 9 PM when he was arrested for speeding in a construction zone and driving with a suspended license. His license had been suspended for an entire year prior to the arrest. He was allegedly driving 89 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. There also was marijuana in the vehicle next to him when he was stopped, but he didn't face any charges related to that. The charges were resolved in the summer of 2022.

Lance Zierlein: 6.24 grade (average starter), Samson Ebukam NFL comp. Disruptive firing into gaps. Hard to move off spot. Lacks pass rush counters and contact balance. Falls below size requirements to be 3-4 OLB. Team first mindset. Attacks pull blockers. Slender, needs more mass. Unable to convert speed to power. Monotonous pass rush plan. Very average pursuit speed for a smaller defender. LZ quotes an NFL scout who had concerns about whether Smith could stay healthy over a 17 game NFL schedule and thought adding more weight could make Smith slower.


Broad shoulders, good wingspan, effective arm length. Menacing length on zone blitz drops to squeeze passing windows near the LOS.

Medium 3rd down, his hesitation step fake to the outside beats the RT, allows him to win to the inside. Fakes inside, then goes around outside of RT, gets QB hit. Has a basketball player Euro step move, got the LT to commit too far to the inside, then with active hands slithered by the LT to the outside.

Set hard edges against run plays. Maintains a wide base with his feet, gains leverage, doesn't get driven backwards or washed sideways. Heavy punch in his hands against left tackle to set edge. Jet sweep to WR, Smith holds the LOS vs a double team block by the RT and TE, then when the RT leaves to block a different defender, Smith frees his outside arm against the TE and helps to tackle the WR. Set edge vs RT, then violently throws the RT to the side to counter to the inside and try to get to the runner.

Immense upper body strength. TE tries to solo block him in pass pro, the OLB violently flings the TE to the side and sheds the block. Stacked and shed RT at POA, then violently attacks the RB as the RB heads for the corner. Am I using the word "violently" too much? When it comes to Smith, there's no such thing as too much violence. He's like that bloody video game your teenager plays all the time. Nolan Smith Chainsaw Massacre. Stacked, discarded TE, then swallowed up the RB at the POA. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant he violently swallowed up the RB like a shark in "Jaws 9, the Next Revenge". Fired off snap and shocked RT with punch, shedding block on run play.

Consistently destroys pulling guards. Gets low, attacks downhill and stuffs the puller. On one play, he knocks the pulling OG backwards into the pulling TE, then after the play is over, he gets into the face of the OG and tells him all about it.

Flashes as pass rusher when he gets puts all the pieces together and gets it right. Beats LT with 2 hand swipe, then redirects for a QB hit. Derion Kendrick got an INT on a player where Smith pushes the LT's outside arm up, gets by the LT and applies pressure in the face of the QB. Beat LT around outside, then caused sack fumble by the QB. Shows some ability to get hips around to flatten around edge.

Doesn't give up if his initial rush stalls, stays active and continues to battle hard to get to the QB. His swipe move failed, but when the RT crosses over, a violent inside club move knocks the RT to the ground. Defeats pass blocks with 3rd efforts, like a RB gaining extra yardage by refusing to get tackled, just sheer determination to get into the pocket to the QB. Punch by RT slows his rush, but OLB pushes the RT's arms up, gets inside him and pressures the QB.

Good at quickly creasing blockers at the LOS right after the snap. Dips his shoulder low, bursts diagonally out of stance and gets to the gap before they can close the angle.

When unblocked, good speed to crash down the LOS from the backside and make a tackle.

When going towards the sideline, flashes outstanding forward burst to pursue and deliver heavy tackles on ball carriers.

Crouches very low in his stance against read option plays, reacts well to get to the runner. Saw that QB kept the ball, able to make lateral change of direction and tackled the QB. Good reaction to option plays, his length and ability to trigger after the mesh gives him a large effective tackle range. Heavy arm tackles. Rarely misses tackles.

Good motor, effort to find and get to the ball. Able to jump over players lying on the ground. Disengaged from RT block, then caused a fumble as he tackled the QB. On sack from blind side, slapped down right on the ball, causing a fumble.

Disciplined defender who locates ball with his eyes, goes through reads. Checked for potential WR reverse before going towards RB.

Lined up in the slot, when the WR came off LOS, physical jam by OLB knocks the WR off balance, disrupting the route.

I don't recall him committing a single penalty in the games I watched.

Improved over the course of his college career, didn't stay the same or regress.

Undisputed team leader for UGA, very intelligent. Asset to franchise in community engagement activities. Outstanding leadership potential, could become an NFL team captain someday and as I said above, maybe even has a future in coaching. Intangibles could push him up the draft board and make teams confident in speculating on his developmental upside, trusting that he'll respond to coaching and put in the necessary work to improve.


I felt that his 2021 tape was better than his 2022 tape.

Never had more than 3.5 sacks in any season at UGA and that year he played in 14 games. Leonard Floyd had 17 sacks in 3 years at UGA. Smith had 11.5 sacks in 4 years. In 2021, Smith clearly wasn't the most dangerous edge rusher on his own team, not just by the stats, but by the eye test. So, it is odd that we'd be talking about him as a potential top 15 pick when he wasn't even a particularly good pass rusher at the college level. 3.5 sacks would be one good game from Aaron Donald.

Not a full time player. Rotated out. Never played more than about half of team's defensive snaps. Wasn't on the field on some key 3rd down situations. Starters came out during blowout wins by UGA, reducing his snap count. Didn't have to demonstrate stamina, was rested and fresh for the snaps he was on field.

His pass rush attempts can feel like they are moving in "slow motion" when he doesn't use an outside speed rush. Not an explosive or dynamic rusher. Momentum as pass rusher stopped or slowed by OT's initial punch. The RT only punches him with one hand (the inside hand) as OLB tries to go outside, but this punch is still enough to knock Smith off course, then the RT delivers a 2 handed shove, sending OLB way past the back of the pocket. Medium 3rd down in red zone, his pads are high as he tries to go outside the LT and the LT delivers a huge shove, sending the OLB flying past the back of the pocket. RT grabs OLB's wrists, blocking initial swipe attempts.

Offers too large of a profile for the OT to strike. He's square to the OT, chest exposed, pads high, hands not active and violent enough to defeat the punch, and the OT uses it to land initial contact. Allows OT to get inside hand to his shoulder pad and gain control on the block.

Got easily handled by "bad" OTs who aren't NFL material. A true 1st round pass rusher should be destroying those guys. Long 3rd down, against RT, the pass rusher should have an advantage. He's too square to the RT, who very easily stalls his rush. Very critical 3rd down in the 4th quarter, his team down by 3 points, against RT, the OLB misses 2 hand swipe and gets locked up. Missed swipe against LT. Got stuffed at apex of rush by RT. Stuffed again by RT. After rush stalled, tried to run super wide around OT and RB helper, opening up huge lane for the QB to scramble upfield. Even though it was SEC football, some of the tackles blocking him were pretty bad.

Got a cheap and easy sack on a QB naked roll out. Some of his pass rush wins are due to extra effort rushes against bad OTs who overextend and get off balance. Smith deserves credit for his motor, aggressiveness and staying active, but he's not going to be able to beat more technical and athletic NFL offensive tackles that way, they are going to be better at sustaining the blocks. Had quite a few rushes against RTs, not a pass rusher who spent most of his time against the LT. Got a sack fumble against a LT who made a poor block.

When he's the 2nd defender on a twist, he loses speed, doesn't carry sufficient downhill momentum as he gets to the LOS, making him easy to block. If he's the 1st guy on the twist, he doesn't bring any power, can't clear out space behind him.

Gave up separation vs TE in pass coverage over the middle. Very rarely used in man coverage. Poor trying to gain depth and drop into zone coverage. Baron Browning was outstanding at diagonal drops from the LOS, while Smith is too slow and not fluid trying to execute the same movement. He can gain depth by turning his back completely to the QB and running, but by doing this he loses sight of the backfield. From a diagonal drop, if he has to turn his body the other way to face the middle of the field, he cannot flip his hips around fluidly, really ugly as he tries to do that.

Poor, clunky pedal when in pass coverage.

Has poor contact balance as he tries to jam TEs and WRs, can stumble after he hits them, creating brief delay if he has to something quickly after that. So focused on jam that he was late to cover WR in the flat, resulting in an easy catch, just as effective as if it had been a rub route.

In zone coverage, ran towards slot WR when he should have been squeezing the window on the route behind him. On short 3rd down, OLB is positioned too much in the middle, not able to threaten passing lane on quick slant route.

WR in tight split to right side. After snap, the OLB jams the WR, then drops to the outside. The WR runs a short route towards the middle of the field. The RB goes to the left of the QB. I don't understand why the OLB is so wide, there literally is no offensive player on that side to cover. Even if he wanted to contain the QB from scrambling, there's no reason for him to be positioned in that particular spot.

3rd&4, OLB runs out wide in coverage, which makes no sense, as the TE runs a slant route right by him. Not only is the OLB not positioned to discourage a pass to the TE, but the RB goes to the flat on that side and the OLB is too deep to be properly positioned to jump on the RB, so why is he heading all the way out there?

Zone blitz, OLB goes to the middle of the field. He's not aware to the pivot route to the side of him and fails to squeeze that window. My impression is that Smith just drops to a designated spot on the field, he's not reading formations, route combinations or other keys to adjust his position to fit what the offense is trying to do, resulting in him not being in position to make more plays.

TE beats his jam and heads up the seam. The RB is circling out of the backfield to the middle of the field. The OLB hesitates, unsure of what to do, then turns his back to the QB and runs downfield to chase the TE. By turning his back, the OLB loses sight of the ball and the pass goes underneath to the RB. I don't have an issue with Smith going after the TE and trying to get depth, he might have even prevented a deep pass, but if the only way you can get back there is by turning around and running, you completely lose sight of the QB and can't react to what might be happening elsewhere on the field.

Labored movement in space. I believe one of the issues is he has a high center of gravity, he's high cut, with hip stiffness. So, if he crouches down very low he can move laterally and change directions, but if he's in more of an upright body position, he cannot change directions fluidly. The result is Smith moves like a much heavier athlete, not like an undersized OLB. It is an odd combination, because on paper he's too light to be an OLB, but as an athlete he more closely resembles a 4-3 DE. In terms of his skill set, he'd be the strong side 4-3 DE, but he's 40 pounds too light to fit the normal size requirements for that role. Experts think that Smith is a versatile player, but I'm nervous that the exact opposite could be true, that it could be challenging to fit him into a team's scheme, he doesn't have a natural fit at any spot in either a traditional 4-3 or 3-4 front, could be a tweener.

There's a play that is revealing, where the QB is retreating and zig zagging back and forth, ala Johnny Manziel or Archie Manning. Smith struggles to match this movement, because he doesn't have the same wiggle in his hips.

A huge TE pushed him backwards at POA, but Smith does a great job fighting back, eventually shedding the block and tackling the runner. A good play, but it also shows that an NFL sized blocker can drive Smith out of the gap despite Smith's good play strength.

A QB who is an average athlete moves out of the pocket to extend the play and OLB is on him 1 vs 1 in space. The QB gives a very basic hesitation step and OLB cannot mirror, showing limited short area agility, misses the sack, then the QB completes a deep pass for a huge gain. Another play, displayed no closing burst, unable to get to QB who had moved out of pocket.

His pass rush stalls, then the QB scrambles upfield. Initially, the OLB is less than a yard behind the QB. Then the gap becomes 2 yards. Then nearly 3 yards. I thought Smith had a fast 40 time. So, why does he sometimes have fantastic closing speed and other times the runner simply runs away from him and he can't close the gap? 3rd down pass, the TE pretends to block, then releases for a short pass, the OLB is directly behind him, but can't close him down to contest the catch or make a quick tackle and the TE runs for a first down. The necessary short area burst and agility just isn't there at times.

He becomes so focused on the blocker in front of him, especially when it is a pulling blocker, that he'll lose leverage and containment on the ball carrier. TE on sift block, OLB runs himself completely out of the play, not even looking at the ball.

His wingspan is somewhat deceptive, because his arms are actually slightly shorter than you'd think if you just looked at his overall size and frame. Sometimes this shows up on pass rushes, because the OT gets into him and the OLB's arm isn't quite long enough to get to the OT's chest and retaliate.

A couple plays he was late reacting to the snap.

Upper body injuries in college. Off field incidents raise questions about his maturity and focus. A super highly ranked high school recruit who never truly performed up to those sky high expectations. Even though the outward persona is he has tremendous football character and I think he'll be very charming during Combine interviews and impress NFL staff, the actual resume suggests he could have underachiever traits. Remember Aaron Curry? He was supposed to be a very safe draft pick with great character. If the Rams had drafted him 2nd overall, after Matthew Stafford, I would have considered it to be a very good pick. Curry became a big draft bust for Seattle. In 2011, Curry was beaten out by a 4th round rookie, KJ Wright. The Hawks dumped Curry in year 3 in a cheap trade.

Smith was listed at 235 pounds every year he was at UGA, never added any weight. He's very muscular in the upper body with thick arms. It won't be easy to add additional lean muscle mass, so how can he add more weight without getting fat and potentially becoming even slower, less flexible and less agile?

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

3rd round grade. Dorance Armstrong (4th round 2018, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas)

Armstrong got exactly the same contract Ebukam did, 2 years with a $6 million salary. He had a career best 8.5 sacks in 2022 and had a 61.8 PFF grade. In 2021, Armstrong had a better run defense grade than a pass rush grade. In his first 3 seasons in the NFL, Armstrong only had a combined total of 2.5 sacks, which is less than 1 sack per season. In 2020, the season he played the most snaps of his career up to that point, but had zero sacks. Year 5 was something of a breakout season for Armstrong.

For a 4th round pick who was taken 5 slots after Brian Allen, I'd say that Armstrong has been a solid draft outcome. He's still on the Dallas roster and he has developed into a decent pass rusher, though it took several years. Kenny Young was taken in the same area of the draft. He didn't stick with the Ravens and got traded to the Rams. Later, the Rams traded him to the Broncos. Young was a PS guy in 2022 and is currently a street FA, not on an NFL roster.

On the other hand, what if Dallas had held the 36th overall pick in that draft and taken Dorance Armstrong at that slot? Shaq Leonard, the Colts LB, was the actual 36th pick. At the very next slot, the Colts got Braden Smith, one of the better right tackles in the NFL. James Daniels, a good guard, came off the board a couple picks later. Dallas Goedert, a very good TE, was pick 49. Right after him, Dallas selected Connor Williams, a starting guard for Dallas and a good center for Miami in 2022. Taking Armstrong too early could have caused a team to miss out on some good players, including multiple offensive linemen.

In the 2018 draft, we talked on TST about the Rams targeting edge rushers. One of the players we discussed was Kemoko Turay of Rutgers, who was a 2nd round pick. He only had a total of 12 sacks in his career and is currently a street FA, not on an NFL roster.

We also talked about another Georgia pass rusher, Lorenzo Carter. He was drafted at the very top of the 3rd round by the NYG. In 4 seasons with the Giants, he never had more than 5 sacks in a season. Carter started all 17 games in 2022 for the Atlanta Falcons, had 4 sacks and a 60.5 PFF grade. Carter was 6'5'' tall, 250 pounds, with 34'' arms, 82'' wingspan and ran 4.46 seconds in the 40. Similar to Smith, Carter was a 5 star prospect who didn't perform up to expectations and had modest sack production when he was at UGA. If we compared Carter to Smith head to head, I think it is difficult to make a strong case to rank Smith ahead of Carter. So, if Carter was a 3rd round pick, why wouldn't we place Smith in that territory, maybe even lower?

This is how Nolan Smith ranks compared with selected EDGE rushers from recent drafts, per LZ's draft grades:

George Karlaftis (30th overall 2022) 6.40

Boye Mafe (40th overall 2022) 6.35

Arnold Ebiketie (38th overall 2022) 6.34

Joe Tryon Shoyinka (32nd overall 2021) 6.31

Dominique Robinson (late 5th round 2022) 6.30

Julian Okwara (early 3rd round 2020) 6.30

Christian Miller (middle of 4th round 2019) 6.30

Lorenzo Carter (3rd round 2018) 6.30

Terrell Lewis (3rd round, Rams, 2020) 6.29

Joseph Ossai (early 3rd round 2021) 6.27

Baron Browning (last pick in 3rd round 2021) 6.27

Nolan Smith (2023 draft) 6.24

Dorance Armstrong (4th round 2018) 6.10

See what I mean? Something's not right. There are 7 players on the list drafted 3rd round or later who grade higher than Smith, yet we're talking about potentially drafting Smith at the top of the 2nd round? If Smith had been in the 2021 draft, based on how LZ has him graded, he probably doesn't get picked until at least the middle of the 3rd round, maybe even the 4th round.

Last year, I suggested that if the Rams still held the pick at the end of the 1st round, I would have used that pick on Arnold Ebiketie. As a rotational backup for the Falcons, Ebiketie had 2.5 sacks as a rookie.

Christian Miller was a 5 star prospect. LZ's NFL comp for him was... Samson Ebukam (is Ebukam one of LZ's go to comps?) Miller had over 35'' arms. Experts liked his upside potential, even though he only had one big year at Alabama (with 8 sacks.) Miller also was a team captain at Bama. Miller only played 1 season in the NFL. He had 2 sacks and is currently a street FA, out of the NFL.

If you put Nolan Smith in the 2022 draft, the OLB with the closest grade is DeAngelo Malone (6.22), who was a middle of the 3rd round selection. He's on the Falcons, the same team as Ebiketie. As a backup, Malone had 1 sack as a rookie and a 57.5 PFF grade.

Smith has a lower grade than Terrell Lewis, who the Rams took in the 3rd round, despite his injury history, because Lewis had the potential to be a good pass rusher. Lewis was waived by the Rams and is currently with the Bears. I loved Dominique Robinson last year, even though he was incredibly raw as a converted WR, with very little pass rushing experience. He's such a good athlete, I think he's a player with high potential. I gave him a 3rd round grade. Robinson had a miserable 45.9 PFF grade as a rookie, with 1.5 sacks.

Unless the 2023 draft is one of the weakest drafts of all time I don't understand why the Rams would take Nolan Smith at the top of the 2nd round. In my view, not only is Ebiketie better than Smith, I'd place Ebiketie on a higher tier. I think Ebiketie would have been a great pick at 36 this year, but he's not in the draft. We didn't have the 1st rounder last year where we could have grabbed him, due to the Matthew Stafford trade.

If the Rams do draft Nolan Smith, I'd tell fans to temper their short term expectations for him. He doesn't profile as an instant impact rookie, he's a developmental player. He'd very likely be a starter by default, just because the Rams don't have anyone else, we are so super thin at OLB at the moment. His pass rushing production, however, would likely be limited early in his career. Samson Ebukam level probably would be a reasonable target. Smith's "peer group" per both my eye test and LZ's grading, are pass rushers that were 3rd to 4th round picks, not guys like George Karlaftis, who went late 1st to very early 2nd round.

We've seen some great pass rushers come from the middle rounds. Danielle Hunter only had a total of 4.5 sacks during his career at LSU. He played 80% of the defensive snaps his final season, but only had 1.5 sacks. Scouts loved his athletic traits and potential, but said he lacked instincts and technique. He was a 3rd round pick in 2015. Hunter was athletic, but a slender 252 pounds. He had a 6.20 draft grade from LZ, which would have placed him just behind Nolan Smith. Hunter became one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. Hunter illustrates how someone like Smith could turn into an elite NFL player, but I'd argue that it also illustrates how Smith probably should be a 3rd round pick and get taken in the range where Hunter went in his draft.

I'm probably running against the wind trying to lower expectations for Smith. Who am I kidding? Fans aren't going to have low expectations. If the Rams draft Smith in the 2nd round, he's going to have to be another Robert Quinn or Leonard Little (a 3rd round pick!) or we'll be calling him a draft bust. That's sports fandom. The reality is Nolan Smith is like the Brian Quick of outside linebackers. Smith might have the potential to be good someday, but he's not an elite player right now. Would drafting him in the 2nd round backfire on the Rams or is it exactly the type of roll the dice move that gambler Les Snead loves to make in the NFL draft?