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Eagles Film Review: Nolan Smith can be useful in so many different ways

A closer look at Philadelphia’s second first-round pick.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Arkansas at Georgia Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2023 NFL Draft over, it’s time for some film rooms on the Philadelphia Eagles’ rookie class. I will try and get to all the players and some UDFAs over the next few weeks. There are loads of scouting reports that will obviously say very similar things, so I have tried to include film clips to back up everything and I will talk about the player’s fit with the Eagles at the end of the piece. I watched the all22 on several rookies, but I can’t share those clips on my own Twitter accounts (or I risk getting blocked), so I’ve used a few other accounts here. Let’s go!



+ Highly athletic, ridiculous mover. Flies around the field and the speed jumps off the screen. Elite athletic traits. His combine performance was absurd and it shows at times on the field. He can make some freaky plays.

+ The ability to change direction and redirect is outstanding. His flexibility is great and he can bend/dip to avoid offensive linemen.

+ First-step quickness as a pass rusher and run defender is excellent. Will threaten the edge and can beat offensive linemen with speed.

+ Perfect fit as a modern-day run defender who will have to defend the read option. May be one of those rare athletes who can defend the mesh point by himself at times. Look at the surf technique below!

+ Not the biggest but he is a dog against the run. Really tough and competitive and will take on an offensive lineman at the point of attack. Can set the EDGE.

+ High-motor, physical, competitive player. Tough as nails.

+ Has the speed to chase down runs from the backside.

+ Has the versatility to rush the quarterback from multiple positions, drop into coverage, or play more of an off-ball linebacker if needed. He will be fantastic on stunts.

(Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw this happen next year?)

+ Flashes some really good pass-rushing traits where he uses his hands to disengage and fight. His pass-rushing numbers on a per-snap basis are good.

+ Everyone raves about his character. Speaks extremely well and was known as very vocal in the locker room.


- Really light and doesn’t have great length either. Not many EDGE defenders are his size.

- Inconsistent with his pass rush. He’s more of a high-motor rusher at this point than a technician. I wish I saw ‘bend-the-edge’ style rushes.

- Feisty against the run but doesn’t have the strongest anchor. Bigger offensive lineman will fancy their chances against him.

- Injuries have kept him off the field, suffered a torn pectoral last year.

- He can drop into coverage (and will be way more effective than Sweat/Reddick) but isn’t good enough to be used in man coverage. He will largely be dropped into coverage just to keep the offense from guessing who is rushing on every play.

- Production on a per-snap basis is good, but overall production is not. Has never had above 3.5 sacks in a season which is not great.


As many of you may know, I wasn’t as high on Nolan Smith as some so I wasn’t shocked he fell to the back end of round 1. This is what I said about him pre-draft:

I can’t help but want freakishly athletic players on my team. It would be fun, and the upside is very high because of the motor and speed. But I’ve seen Nolan Smith mocked to the Eagles at 10 and just don’t see it. That is a high pick to risk on a traits player with limited production. I can imagine the Eagles really liking him because his closest comp is probably Haason Reddick but that doesn’t mean he will instantly become him. Reddick took a few years to really develop (and was a better rusher in college) and I think the same will need to happen for Nolan Smith. He’s a useful player who flies around the field and will have a role, but I want a better pass rusher at 10. I’m taking Smith > Lukas Van Ness on scheme, not based on what I have seen.

Van Ness vs. Nolan Smith was debated a lot by Eagles fans, and it’s clear the NFL preferred Van Ness who went at 13, but I think Smith is a better fit for this defense. Nolan Smith is just such a good fit for this defense, based on what they did last year. Personally, I think pick 10 would have been too early for me, but pick 30 is great value.

I have a lot to say about Nolan Smith, so buckle up, let’s get deep into this.

I was reading @MarkBullockNFL on Twitter breakdown new Washington Commander, Ricky Stromberg, and he put on these two clips which just highlight Nolan Smith. Look at how aggressive he is in the first clip and how he takes on the block. He does not look light or small there at all. But then in the second clip, you can see he can get moved and he looks light, but even then he has the athleticism to fight back, recover, and help make the tackle.

Anyone who is acting like Nolan Smith’s weight is not a concern at all, is kidding themselves in my opinion. He will have reps where he just looks small and light and powerful offensive linemen will have their way with him. But, that doesn’t mean he will be a bad player. Everyone will lose reps. I expect Smith to be an impact player from year one and will contribute a lot in various ways while developing as a pass-rusher.

Smith will be in a great situation because he will likely never get chipped or doubled in his first year or two because of how talented the Eagles are upfront. I prefer him as an EDGE defender in the Eagles' 5-man fronts and more of a moveable off-ball linebacker in 4-man fronts rather than a strict defensive end (except for obvious pass-rushing situations). I would be so disappointed if the Eagles just lined up Smith as an every-down pass rusher. He should be used in coverage, used on exotic blitzes, used in stunts etc. The Eagles should be creative with him and take advantage of his athletic profile and not expect him to beat really good pass-blocking tackles on a one-on-one basis consistently.

There’s no point in lying and saying I’ve never had any concerns, but I think at worst you are getting a twitchy athlete, with a high motor, who appears to be an incredible character addition in the locker room. I just can’t see him busting or not having any value. I am not sure he will be a ‘superstar’ pass rusher (he strikes me as a 5-8 sack guy rather than a 10+) unless he really improves, but he will be useful in so many different ways. He’s a modern-day jack-of-all-trades defender who can do so many things as an off-ball linebacker/EDGE defender and should not just be asked to rush the quarterback every snap. You can do a lot of things schematically with Smith and I’m incredibly interested to see how the Eagles use him over the next few years.

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