Nolan Smith Staring at a Golden Opportunity in 2023
Howie Roseman loaded up on more Bulldogs at the 2023 NFL Draft. Using first-round picks on Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith got fans of the Philadelphia Eagles excited to watch stars that helped the University of Georgia to consecutive National Championships.
Carter is the favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Smith hasn’t stood out nearly as much. It isn’t because the 22-year-old doesn’t have the opportunity to shine.
Eagles Pass Rush
Nolan Smith has one sack, seven tackles, and two quarterback hits in the first nine games of his NFL career. His role on special teams has contributed to units that have improved from their performance last season. However, he hasn’t played more than nine defensive snaps in any game.
Nick Sirianni spoke on Nov. 1 about Smith’s limited role.
“He’s just in a very deep room, and sometimes you get in the flow of the game and you ride the hot hand. And (Josh) Sweat and Haason (Reddick) have really been playing really good football.” –Nick Sirianni
The head coach certainly wasn’t wrong about his two star edge rushers. They command playing time, but the Eagles have built some of their best teams on the strength of defensive line rotations.
Sweat and Reddick each played over 80% of the defensive snaps in Week 8 against Washington and Week 9 against Dallas. The Eagles didn’t use an edge rusher on 80% of defensive plays in any of the first seven games in 2023. The reliance on two players doesn’t align with the approach they’ve taken toward the position in recent history.
Brandon Graham has shown some energy in a limited role, but he is unlikely to play more than 30-40% of the snaps in games down the stretch at age 35. Derek Barnett sat as a healthy scratch in Week 9. It’s unlikely that he has any future with the Eagles as a contributor.
That leaves room for another player to enter the rotation of edge rushers.
Opportunity for Nolan Smith
There was excitement surrounding Smith during training camp. His slender body type and explosive ability drew him comparisons to Reddick. His relentless motor impressed the coaching staff and the fans.
The draft pedigree, the appeal of his skill set, and the seemingly wide-open spot in the rotation of pass rushers should be the perfect opportunity for Nolan Smith to step into a role on defense as a contributor.
The 2022 Eagles set a franchise record with 70 sacks. They have 30 this season, which lands them tied for fifth in the NFL through Week 10. An organization that takes so much pride in their strength in the trenches badly wants a dominant pass rush to help them meet their Super Bowl expectations.
While Reddick and Sweat can capably rush the quarterback in full-time roles, a first-round pick spending so much time on the sidelines isn’t a positive indicator of progress early in his NFL career.
The opportunity to earn the trust of the coaching staff is right in front of him. It’s up to Smith to make the necessary progress and take advantage of an immediate chance to become a key pass rusher for a Super Bowl contender.