Nolan Smith: Drafted on Athleticism, Will he Succeed? 

The Eagles have shown a tendency to draft players from Georgia University at this point. We have seen multiple defense of linemen, a linebacker, and a defensive back all in just two years time. This faith in the Georgia staff to develop NFL caliber talent might explain why the Eagles were smitten with Nolan Smith in the draft process. 

Georgia Coaching Staff

Kirby Smart is the head coach at University of Georgia where he has built a power house program over his now 8 year tenure. Smart was an assistant coach and/or coordinator for 17 years overseeing defensive backs a position he once played for Georgia. Smart has built a very experienced staff including Co-Defensive Coordinators in Will Muschamp former South Carolina Head Coach, and Glenn Schuman 

Muschamp a former safety for Georgia from 91-94 has been coaching since 1995. Four years before his now head coach. Both men received their first head coaching job in 2016 but Muschamp was let go by South Carolina after the 2020 season. He immediately joined Georgia overseeing special teams and assisting defensive coaches in 2021. 

By 2022 he was the Co-Defensive Coordinator which allowed Glenn Schuman to focus more on linebackers and less on overseeing the defense. This has since resulted in two straight National Titles. Glenn Schuman is still very young in terms of coaches at just 33 years old. 

He started his career with Alabama his Alma Mater. He would spend eight seasons at Alabama as a student assistant, and later a graduate assistant before holding the Director of Football PPS for two seasons. In 2016 he was hired to oversee inside linebackers. He held this role for three years before he was promoted to Co-Defensive Coordinator in 2019, while still overseeing inside linebackers tutoring Nakobe Dean. 

Their defensive line coach is Tray Scott. Scott could be a name to watch as an eventual defensive coordinator. Producing players like Jordan Davis, DeVonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter, and Travon Walker. He also won Rivals Recruiter of the Year in 2023 due to his success drawing high level prospects to Georgia. With so many first round picks coming out of his unit his reputation as an up and coming coach is well deserved. The progress from their freshman seasons, to when they graduated was significant as well, it’s not as if he is costing by on recruiting the best talent. 

Track Record of Successfully Developing Players

According to an article written by 247 sports 30 NFL Players Drafted out of Georgia between 2017 and 2021(Kirby Smart’s first full season as head coach). Some of the highlights of these draft classes include Roquan Smith, Nick Chubb, Andrew Thomas, De’Andre Swift. However in 2022 alone they saw 15 more players drafted in a single season, and in 2023’s draft class they added 10 more in 2023. Over that two year stretch 8 first round picks, 2 second round picks, 3 third round picks. In this year’s draft the Eagles selected three of those 10 players drafted with Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and Kelee Ringo, adding to their selections of Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean last season.

Unbelievable Results

Last season both Thomas, and Dean fought through injuries. Dean appeared in all 17 games but never started, and was not 100% early on in the season. He finished the year with 13 tackles. He was expected to take over a starting role in 2023, but another injury has prevented this from happening so far in camp.

Jordan Davis has missed 4 games due to injury, playing in 13 games last season, with 5 starts. He managed 18 tackles, and 1 pass deflection as the third/fourth defensive tackle in the rotation, while primarily playing in obvious running situations.

Due to the injury to Dean, the Eagles brought in two veteran linebackers to try and add starting quality depth. Signing Myles Jack, and Zack Cunningham to potentially start. While both are on one year contracts, its possible we see one of these two linebackers let go by the regular season. While Dean and Davis didn’t light the world on fire in year one, they weren’t expected to. One large reason the Eagles have so much success with their early round picks, is they do not force them into starting roles immediately if it can be avoided.

That’s why we only saw 5 starts between both Dean and Davis despite appearing in a collective 30 games last season. Being used as a rotational piece as a rookie, allows these players to get reps, and learn the scheme without being forced into a tough situation on day one.

How does this affect Nolan Smith?

The truth is, Nolan Smith was selected as high as he was due to his once in a generation athlete at defensive end. Coming out of High School depending on where you looked Smith was ranked as the number one player in the country, and 20th best All-Time. He was compared to Khalil Mack at the time.

After countless offers he chose to attend Georgia University. At the school he would play in 46 games as an outside linebacker, and during that time collect 114 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 recovery, and 1 block. He was expected to play primarily as a designated pass rusher for the Eagles in 2023. However there are valid questions about his college production in this department.

Despite a 4.39 40-yard dash in the 2023 NFL combine, Smith managed no more than 3.5 sacks in college. His combine may have caused shock and awe, but his on-field production never seemed to do the same. The big question here for Eagles fans, is can the Eagles change this narrative in the NFL?

Nolan Smith went from one of the top ranked prospects ever coming out of high school, to paltry college numbers, to an explosive combine and a first round pick. Now he joins an Eagles coaching staff that saw a tremendous amount of turnover over the past year. With Jonathan Gannon now in Arizona, and Sean Desai taking over as the defensive coordinator. Desai is also entering just his second season as a defensive coordinator ever. Is he the right coach to take Smith from rotational pass-rusher to premier player?

Mentors A-Plenty

Part of the success Philadelphia has found over the last twenty years has been due to the fact that they value the veteran presence on their team, and always seem to plan a year ahead of time. Smith is a perfect example of a player whose true role, may not be realized until a very solid veteran leaves. Hassan Reddick is a near spitting image of Nolan Smith in many ways. Reddick is 6’1 240, Smith is 6’2 238, Reddick ran a 1.59 10-yard split, 4.52 40-yard dash, and leapt to a 36.5 inch vertical. Meaning Smith is arguably more explosive than Reddick off the line.

This could prove to be a vital skill if he steps into that SAM linebacker role in Philly. After Reddick began his career in Arizona, it wasn’t until year four they found out how to properly use him. In his first three seasons Reddick appeared in 48 games starting just 20 of them. In this first 48 games Reddick produced 7.5 sacks.

His final year in Arizona, he cranked out double digit sacks, topping his career total in just 11 starts and 16 games. He managed 12.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 6 forced fumbles on the year. This led him to sign with Carolina for year five. Unsure what they would get, Carolina signed Reddick to a one year deal to hedge their bets. They were pleased when Reddick delivered 11 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 2021. Then in 2022 he signed a three year contract with the Eagles.

Philadelphia was looking to spice up their pass rush, and bring in a player that could push the pocket from the linebacker position. Reddick was their guy. They signed him to a three year $45 million contract. The Eagles were immediately rewarded for this decision. Starting all 17 games, Reddick managed 49 tackles, 16 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 3 recoveries. This was just the third time since 2011 that the Eagles had a player produced double digit sacks, and was the first since 2018. Given two more years are left on his deal, Reddick will essentially serve as the mentor for Nolan Smith.

Smith is expected to be the eventual replacement for Reddick, but it will be interesting to follow along over the next two years to see how much Smith grows, and if he looks ready to fill in the rather large shoes of Reddick by 2025. Although I do expect to see Smith in the rotation early, it would be shocking to see him start this season.

Is Pedigree Important?

We often see teams draft players from certain schools simply because those schools have a track record of successfully producing NFL talent. At times this has proven fruitful, at others it has proven foolish. Nolan Smith is a guy whose combine numbers alone are intriguing; A first step of 1.52 nearly as fast as most wide receivers, 4.39 overall 40, which is good enough to flirt with the idea of playing Smith as a safety, as well as a 41.5 inch vertical leap shows just how explosive he truly is.

The Eagles have always been willing to swing for the fences with draft picks, and trades alike. This is one move however that could be interesting to follow going forward. While his combine looks as though he could be a generational player, his college production should be enough to elicit pause from the fan base before we anoint him the next great Eagles Pass rusher. Please check out our other NFL articles here.


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