NFL Combine: Draft Sleeper DE Nolan Smith Runs Faster Than Saquon Barkley
The NFL scouting combine is here, and the 32 franchises are going to poke and prod the top 319 college prospects ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. Sure, the scouts and coaches and GMs and even the owners know that the tape matters more than the underwear Olympics in Indy. But when a 6-foot-2, 238-pound, pass-rushing, NFL draft sleeper runs the 40-yard dash faster than Saquon Barkley, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. And that’s precisely what the Nolan Smith 40 time was on Thursday, and exactly what he did at the NFL combine.
The Nolan Smith 40 time at the NFL combine was eye-popping
Georgia pass-rusher Nolan Smith is a polarizing prospect, which is why he is a 2023 NFL Draft sleeper.
He was the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school in Savannah, Georgia, the Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, one of the stars of Georgia’s 2021 championship team, and had 7.0 sacks in eight games in 2022 before a torn pectoral ended his season.
Smith is also 6-foot-2 (not 6-foot-3 as listed at Georgia) and just 238 pounds. That’s shorter and lighter than most teams want their edge rushers, even the generally smaller 3-4 outside linebackers.
So, once the measurements came in at the NFL combine, the question became, how athletic is Smith? Can he make up for his lack of size with superior athleticism as a player like Haason Reddick does?
The early answer looks like a yes.
That’s because on the first workout day of the 2023 NFL combine, with the defensive lineman showing their stuff, Nolan Smith made jaws drop. The NFL draft sleeper put up the best vertical jump (41.50 inches), the fourth-best broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches), and the fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.39 seconds.
That 40 time is the second-fastest a defensive lineman has ever run at the NFL combine after last year when Amare Barno (sixth-round pick, Carolina Panthers) ran a 4.36.
To put that in perspective, the 40 times of the top rushers this season who ran at their combine were Saquon Barkley (4.4 seconds), Derrick Henry (4.54 seconds), and Nick Chubb (4.52 seconds). As for the top receivers in the league, those are Justin Jefferson (4.43 seconds), Davante Adams (4.56), and A.J. Brown (4.49 seconds).
Now, the question is, what does the Nolan Smith 40 time do to his draft stock?
Where will Nolan Smith be drafted?
The incredible Nolan Smith 40 time at the NFL combine means that the debate over the pass rusher will continue up until draft day.
From his senior year in high school to halfway through his senior year of college, Smith looked on track to become a high first-round NFL draft pick. However, his pec injury started the narrative that he may be too small to hold up as an NFL pass-rusher.
This caused him to slip to a borderline first-round/second-round guy.
Then the NFL combine happened, and despite his small stature, those testing numbers are going to be too spicy for some teams to ignore.
In the end, this all probably means Nolan Smith moved solidly into the first round, although not at the top of the first round. Edge-rushers like Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama), Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), and Myles Murphy (Clemson) will still be the first rushers off the board.
That said, Smith now solidly put his name among the back half of the first-round pass-rushers such as Keion White (Georgia Tech), Lukas Van Ness (Iowa), and Derrick Hall (Auburn).
And what this means is that Smith will likely fall to a good team with a competent coaching staff who will find ways to put him in positions to maximize his strengths and minimize his size limitations so that he can succeed in the NFL.
Look for the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, or Kansas City Chiefs to possibly take a chance on this NFL draft sleeper in the first.