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Georgia Football

For Georgia Bulldogs LB Nolan Smith Size Doesn't Always Matter

August 30, 2022

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ATHENS - An NFL Draft expert recently ranked Georgia Bulldog LB Nolan Smith as a top five player in a look ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft. Thus far, this has not been a consensus opinion. 

While Georgia’s Defensive Lineman Jalen Carter has been considered a potential top five pick since last season, many have taken a wait and see approach on Smith. Of course, the same was being said before last season about Travon Walker, the eventual overall first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The (relative) concern about Smith is that he does not have the prototypical size, more specifically the length, of most first round NFL outside linebackers. This might be true, but Nolan Smith is not a prototypical athlete even by NFL standards. Rather, Smith is comparable to someone like 2011 top five NFL Draft pick Von Miller. At the 2011 NFL Combine, future NFL Hall of Famer Von Miller was just under 6’ 3” and 246 pounds. Miller, who at that point had already played his college ball and trained for the NFL combine, ran an eye-popping 4.42 forty-yard dash, a 4.06 twenty-yard shuttle and had an excellent vertical jump of 37 inches.

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In 2018, while still in high school, Nolan Smith had the best overall athletic testing among all blue-chip recruits invited to the Nike Opening. Smith was then listed at 6’ 3”and 232 pounds and ran a 4.55 forty-yard dash, a 4.08 shuttle and wowed with a vertical jump of over 42 inches. Fast-forward to the 2023 NFL Combine, and Smith will again test extremely high compared to his peers. There are simply few humans that have the athletic profile of someone like Smith, it may just seem like there are as a couple of them were his teammates that now play in the NFL.

Smith, like Miller, will be considered “relatively” small for his position. Nonetheless, sometimes players that do not have ideal measurables coming into college, demonstrate that their smaller stature is not a hinderance to their game. Their college success and “tape” are so undeniable that NFL teams overlook that they may be smaller than most players at their position.

For example, all things being equal, top college football programs will usually sign a 6’ receiver over one considerably shorter. Both may have potential, but more players that look like the former become stars than their diminutive counterparts. Yet, there are always examples that buck the trend, like Rondale Moore and Wan’Dale Robinson. They were great high school receivers/playmakers, but likely because both are under 5’ 9” they signed with Purdue and Kentucky, rather than more elite football programs that chose bigger players from among hundreds of talented receiver prospects. Moore and Robinson, however, proved many wrong and shined in college despite their size and were both top 50 picks in the 2021 and 2022 NFL Draft, respectively.

To be sure, Nolan Smith was rated as the number one overall recruit coming out of high school when he signed with Georgia. Yet, the point remains that a player like Nolan Smith, who excels in college against the very best competition and on the biggest stages, has "proved" that he is the rare example of a “smaller” player whose size does not limit his “ceiling” or “upside potential” to use NFL Draft-speak. His on-field play should end any concern there may have been about his size. Recent “undersized” first round draft picks, such as former Georgia Bulldog 6’ 2” Left Tackle Isaiah Wynn and 5’ 10” Quarterback Kyler Murray are similar examples from the last few years that come to mind.

Besides a ridiculous athletic profile, by all accounts Nolan Smith is an extremely hard worker and is a team leader – meaning he also has the intangibles that NFL teams will love. It is anticipated that Smith will have an even larger role and chance to shine on Georgia’s 2022 defense than he did in 2021. And one does not have to be an NFL scout to notice how his play has improved each season in Athens. With a stellar final season for the Dawgs in 2022, Nolan Smith has a great chance to be a top ten pick in April’s NFL Draft.

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