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NFL Scouting Combine Winners and Losers: The DL players who could fit Rams

Nolan Smith stole the show at the combine’s first workouts, but that’s not surprising

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams do not have a first round pick, selecting for the first time with 36th overall in the second round. Perhaps that changes before April 27th, either with a trade of a veteran, a move up, or a move down. But right now, Les Snead is at pick 36.

The first athletic testing of the combine happened on Thursday with defensive tackles, edge players, linebackers. Here are some results that could impact the Rams.

DT Calijah Kancey, Pitt

As Blaine Grisak wrote on Thursday, Aaron Donald comparisons have been following Kancey since he tore up the ACC as a sophomore in 2021. Kancey had 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2021, followed by 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks in 2022, playing in one fewer game. Not only did AD and Kancey play at the same school, but they also shared a similar undersized stature, but could Kancey run as fast as AD’s legendary time in 2014?

He was even faster than AD, beating him by a tenth of a second to run a 4.67 at 281 lbs.

What still separates the two athletically is arm length, as AD’s arms are still two inches longer and that really matters in the trenches, trying to win face up against offensive lineman who might be getting the first strike. That could have also played a part in AD’s dominant stats at Pitt in 2013, including 28.5 TFL in 13 games.

That’s more TFL in one season than Kancey had in the last two.

Did Kancey raise his stock? Sure. But if he was a borderline first round pick before the combine, maybe he’s only given himself greater odds of being selected at the end of day one. If enough wide receivers, cornerbacks, and quarterbacks go in the first round, Kancey could still make it to day two as one of the top players left on the board.

LB Nolan Smith, Georgia

Because a lot of mock drafts have had Nolan Smith regularly listed as a late first round or early second round pick, his dominant testing on Thursday may have given some fans the impression that now he’s a top-10 lock.

Smith ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 238 lbs and posted a 41.5” vertical. It sounds freaky because it is freaky. Isaiah Simmons ran a 4.39 at 238 lbs in 2020, Micah Parsons ran a 4.39 at 246 lbs in 2021, Von Miller ran a 4.42 at 246 lbs in 2011.

But less famous football players have also posted crazy combine times, including edge Amare Barno’s 4.36 at 246 lbs just last year.

It’s difficult to project that Smith’s combine numbers dramatically improved his draft stock when NFL teams knew going into the week that he’d probably be the best athlete at his position. Smith was considered by some as the top recruit in the nation in 2019, a SPARQ superstar athlete, and the reason eyes were on him was because people were anticipating freaky times. If he was a late first round pick before the combine, he should still be valued about the same after the combine because this was all expected.

Smith posted eight TFL and 4.5 sacks in 2021 and then seven TFL and three sacks in eight games with Georgia last season. He’s considered a “tweener” without a great fit at a certain position and that’s what could keep him on the board by the time L.A. picks at 36. That’s where maybe Raheem Morris sees Smith as a good fit for his edge position at 238 lbs and 4.39 speed.

Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

After posting 8.5 TFL in 2021 and then 9 TFL in 2022, totaling 9.5 sacks over the last two seasons in 24 games, “Ade Ade” put himself into the NFL Draft conversation at Northwestern. He was a standout at the Senior Bowl and now one of the top players at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

NextGen Stats gave him the same athletic score as former teammate Rashawn Slater, a first round pick two years ago and now one of the top left tackles in the NFL. He had a 4.49 40-yard dash at 282 lbs, a 10’5 broad jump, and a 37.5” vertical.

Last year, number one overall pick Travon Walker ran a 4.51 at 272 lbs and had a 10’3 broad, 35.5” vertical. Ade Ade is one of those rare athletes at 280 lbs and they usually get picked in the first round, but his grade was hardly solidified as a day one player before the draft. Some would have put him closer to the third round. Now he might have put himself into the early day two conversation, right around where the Rams are picking.

He wasn’t super productive at Northwestern. Could he stand out with some time next to Aaron Donald?

YaYa Diaby, Louisville

Finally, YaYa isn’t probable to go in the early second round, but the defensive lineman might have done enough to raise his stock for the Rams somewhere in the draft. How much his stock has been impacted is unclear, but Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy likes what he’s seen from YaYa all year and he noted that Diaby did have nine sacks last year.

Diaby’s 1.56 10-yard split is elite for anybody, but especially at 263 lbs.

He may have been a seventh round or UDFA pick, that shouldn’t be the case now. Perhaps one of Snead’s many day three picks could land on Diaby.