The Falcons have been mocked to draft a number of different prospects. Offensive linemen, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen have been the most popular targets, but Todd McShay of ESPN is the first person to suggest Georgia’s Nolan Smith as a possible selection.
Here’s my biggest riser of the combine. I had Smith up at No. 5 in my preseason rankings, but I dropped him quite a bit after a torn pectoral muscle limited him to eight games and three sacks in 2022. He’s back up to No. 10 overall, though. At 238 pounds, he busted out a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, 41.5 inches in the vertical jump and 10-foot-8 in the broad. That’s ridiculous. I love Smith’s closing burst to the QB and the way he can create havoc in the backfield as a run defender. If he works on his pass-rush moves and the way he formulates a plan on every snap, he could be a problem off the edge for opposing offensive coordinators.
After 21 sacks, the Falcons need all the pass-rush help they can get. Lorenzo Carter — who joined Grady Jarrett as the only Atlanta players with at least three sacks last season — was just re-signed, but this team needs more players who can get pressure off the edge.
The Falcons hired Ryan Nielsen over from New Orleans to be the team’s defensive coordinator, and Nolan Smith doesn’t exactly fit the Saints’ scheme. Still, any competent coordinator won’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. I expect the system to have similar bones but will be tweaked to accentuate Atlanta’s personnel better.
With the Saints, Nielsen’s defensive front assumed an even front with two massive edge defenders to set the edge; Smith is undersized for that role. Again, good coordinators fit their system to their players, not the other way around.
Nolan Smith is undoubtedly a talented player. He was a consensus top-10 prospect for much of the year until he suffered a season-ending injury. I still think he could sneak into the top 10, though. He didn’t just forget how to play football, and a pec injury isn’t as detrimental as an ACL or Achilles injury. Smith will be a productive piece in an NFL defense.
John Adams/Icon Sportswire Nolan Smith