Nolan Smith’s explosiveness and tenacity will add value to Birds defense

Of the seven players drafted by the Eagles last week, former Georgia star Nolan Smith is perhaps the most intriguing of them all.

After missing his final seven games of his senior season with the Bulldogs with a pectoral injury, Smith wowed NFL scouts and teams, kicking off his excellent pre-draft process.

Producing eight action games as a senior (18 tackles, including seven for loss and three sacks) isn’t what you’d expect from a first-round rusher, but his traits and explosiveness on film shine more than his stats ever will. to show.

Smith will enter a defensive line and the outside linebacker room with already established contributors in Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. Although Smith is far from a finished product, he has a skill set that could be difficult to keep off the field in his rookie season with the Eagles.

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Define edge

At just 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, Smith’s ability to give up the edge rivaled not just any first-round draft pick, but all of college football last season. As a run defender, Smith has been asked to shoot offensive linemen, read the mesh point on read-option runs, and even send stunts to close the B gap of traditional defensive lineups.

Defensive coordinators typically ask 250-pound and 260-pound defensive ends to take blocks head-on, and Smith was not only fearless in doing so, but also blasted running plays in the process. In the clips from three separate plays below, Smith is seen “dumping” running plays, meaning he condenses the effectiveness of shooting guards and tackles, changing the ball carrier’s point of aim and channeling it to his fluid teammates. His ability to roll out his hips, generate power to fend off offensive linemen, and then redirect to make play in every clip is beyond impressive.

Along with establishing a firm edge, Smith also has the ability to win with elite first-step quickness and fluidity in his hips to bend and dive. A loose athlete who can be parallel to the ground, Smith explodes off the football and can drive a gap before an inside offensive lineman or tackle can lay a finger on him.

In another set of three clips below, Smith showcases his ability to get under base blocks and down in one-on-one situations and not only easily win at the point of attack, but also play in the backfield. or at the line of scrimmage. What’s special about each individual play is how quickly Smith gets into position to make the play, balancing himself before knocking the ball carriers down with great tackling technique. His ability to dip his shoulder parallel, while keeping his body balanced is proof of what a unique athlete he is and the versatile offense he brings as a running defender.

As more teams embrace quarterbacking and planned runs on the outside, the role of the player who provides the advantage is more vital than ever, especially for the Eagles, who use Jalen Hurts early and often as part of their running game. With Georgia’s top-seven dominating the past two seasons, teams would try to test runs on the perimeter, while trying to lure Smith inside so they could find daylight on the sideline.

However, Smith is incredibly disciplined as a running defender, understanding his responsibilities in any given game and executing them. Facing Alabama in the 2021 National Championship, Smith shows his grit and tenacity to work through a crack substitution block, ward off the tight end and chase the running back while taking a wide angle.

Against the Wolverines in the CFP semi-finals, JJ McCarthy’s athleticism in their running attack was a focal point going into the match, and Smith’s ability to not get sucked into the mesh point, line up quarterback and finishing the play on the perimeter shows a well-drilled, explosive athlete making plays in space.

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Devastating speed as a rusher

As a pass thrower, Nolan Smith does not yet have a well-developed plan of attack, but the foundation of his abilities is using his elite first step, quickness and natural flexibility to bend to win against tackles opposing offensives. In his four seasons with the Bulldogs, Smith had 12.5 sacks, including a career-high 4.5 in 2021, but his third pass rush success rate, according to Pro Football Focuswas 37.5.

That’s a staggering number for a player of his production, proving there’s more below the surface to the number of sacks he’s created. Flexibility, in particular, allows him to iron out hard-to-cut angles for tackles.

An example of this came against South Carolina in 2022, where Smith avoids a chip block from the tight end, an adjustment made after wreaking havoc earlier in the game, engages the tackle, uses a swimming motion to win and works a parallel path for the quarterback, hitting Spencer Rattler as he got the ball out. The contact is made possible thanks to his explosiveness in his ankles to redirect his trajectory and quickly approach the quarterback.

While using his speed and flexibility to disadvantage tackles, Smith also has powerful and quick hands, allowing him to score clean wins atop his passes. The power he wields as a running defender also manifests as a passing thrower, using his lower-body explosiveness to quickly eat away at tackle space in pass protection, leaving room to work a myriad passing techniques.

Using the “forklift” technique, where a passing thrower puts his hands under an offensive lineman’s arms to put him in a vulnerable position, Smith fires his hands into the body of Michigan’s left tackle below and forces the lineman back into the quarterback’s throwing lane. The maneuver, which he pulls off quickly, forces an errant throw, leading to an interception in the end zone.

The ability to win on an outside lane forced tackles to overshoot against Smith, aiming to slow the explosive rusher and prevent him from turning the corner to fire the quarterback. Due to his flexibility to bend as a passing thrower, this leaves Smith the ability to work inside pass rush counters if tackles try to set a firm advantage.

An example of Smith implementing an outside move only to attack into the inside shoulder of a tackle came against Alabama in the 2021 National Championship, where he cheated on current New York Giants right tackle Evan Neal. making him think he would try to win on the outside shoulder. . Instead, Smith uses an outside stutter, sweeps Neal’s late hands and seals the game by sacking Bryce Young. Smith’s ability to change direction quickly and blast through blocks is why the Eagles should be excited about the skill he brings.

As Smith prepares to play alongside a player many compared him to during the draft process, Reddick, there is a palpable buzz around the height of the ceiling for the former Georgia star. Playing much bigger than his size, exhibiting a rare combination of unique athleticism and power, as well as his relentless pursuit, Smith has the perfect tools to make an immediate impact as a rookie.

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How quickly he learns Sean Desai’s scheme will be the biggest question mark, but having played several different roles in Georgia’s defense, ranging from simple passer to quarterback spy, he shouldn’t not be out of the question to expect Smith to find playing time as the Eagles’ situational defensive player.

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