In last week’s prospect profile, we analyzed NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s second mock draft ahead of the NFL scouting combine. In his mock draft, he selected Georgia Tech’s Keion White for the Dallas Cowboys with the 26th pick and bypassed a few notable players. While the selection of White didn’t sit quite well or seem very reasonable, it did draw attention to who was passed up in White’s place. As mentioned last week, Jeremiah had the receiver-needy Cowboys pass on Zay Flowers in his simulated draft.
However, the name that really got the juices flowing was Nolan Smith. Smith, and fellow edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah, went off the board at 27 and 28 respectively, but what if Smith was actually available for the Cowboys when they’re on the clock? What would Dallas be getting from the Georgia edge rusher? Today, we answer that question and see what the film says about Smith in order to assess how he would work with the Cowboys if selected.
Nolan Smith is an explosive athlete (jersey #4 in the videos). His raw traits jump off the screen when you watch his film. He routinely wows you with his quickness to stifle running plays and penetrate the backfield. He’s also very agile. When running a game with interior linemen up front, he can twist from one gap to another with ease.
(jersey #4 in the videos)
In addition to that, Smith is a dynamic pass rusher that can play as a stand-up edge rusher or with his hand in the dirt. Smith demonstrates good instincts in playing misdirection and has a natural feel for sniffing out the read option and not allowing the runner to break his edge containment.
Again, the key theme is versatility as he is flexible enough to play in multiple schemes and has the athleticism to drop back in man coverage. Despite being undersized, he has surprising pop in his hands and can knock offensive linemen backward with good strength. This last clip is something to see. He avoids the chip from the tight end and then gets past the offensive lineman with an excellent swim move.
At 6’2” and 235 lbs., Smith can be engulfed by bigger offensive linemen. Due to his size, there’s a concern that elite linemen more equipped to handle his quickness will neutralize his speed as he doesn’t have a lot of counter moves outside of his speed rush to turn the corner and his bull rush. Though Smith does punch above his weight class, driving offensive linemen into the backfield and can convert speed to power, it’s just not with regularity.
When watching Smith against former Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, Smith’s pass rush was stopped dead in his tracks after his initial rush wasn’t able to drive Neal backward. He’s going to have to put on some muscle to take on premier NFL tackles since speed alone won’t be enough. While he does have the athleticism to play in coverage, he doesn’t have the innate feel of a zone defender.
In response to Jeremiah’s pick of Keion White, Nolan Smith instead makes a lot more sense for the Cowboys. Smith has a much bigger upside and has a lot of physical traits that you can’t teach and plays with a bigger chip on his shoulder. Smith will, without question, need to develop a more varied repertoire of pass-rush moves but his natural foundation is solid as concrete.
Under the tutelage of Dan Quinn and with the proper development in an NFL strength training regiment, Smith could be a future Pro Bowler. In a short time, Smith in tandem with the likes of Micah Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Sam Williams could vault the Dallas pass rush from elite to downright fearsome. There should be no qualms if his draft card is turned in at 26.