Nolan Smith hints that the Falcons may be targeting him in the draft

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The Falcons’ pedestrian pass rush has been well-documented in recent years, ranking dead last in the league in sacks over the last two seasons… by more than 20 sacks.

Atlanta has seemingly taken steps to address the issue. The front office drafted Arnold Ebiketie in the second round of the 2021 draft and doubled up with DeAngelo Malone in the later rounds. The club also took steps in free agency, signing a pair of former Saints in David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss.

But there is still a void that must be filled for a dominant pass rusher. One of the aforementioned pass rushers could fill that void, but could it also be Georgia Bulldogs outside linebacker Nolan Smith?

The former Dawg stands 6-2 and weighs 238 pounds. He lit the NFL Combine on fire, running a 4.39 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split. He certainly has a track record the Falcons are looking for — 11.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 78 quarterback pressures in 46 games for the Bulldogs.

Moreover, Nolan Smith is Georgia grown. The hometown kid is a fan favorite, and Smith expressed to Maria Martin of 11AliveNews how much he’d value staying home.

“I’m a hometown kid and it’d just mean a lot to me,” Smith said. “It just seems like they see a future in me and that they really want to keep me home.”

Todd McShay of ESPN had the Falcons selecting Smith at No. 8 overall in his latest mock draft. So, it certainly seems possible to the most connected names in the business, but does it make sense?

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 into 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 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 a talented player. He was a consensus top-10 prospect for much of the year until he suffered a season-ending injury. However, I still think he could sneak into the top 10. He didn’t just forget how to play football, and a pectoral injury isn’t as detrimental as an ACL or Achilles injury. Smith will be a productive piece in an NFL defense.

And he could do it in Atlanta. Nolan Smith believes the team sees a future in him.

John Adams/Icon Sportswire

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