Outside of Leonard Floyd and his team-high nine sacks, the rest of the edge rush room combined to only get 6.5 sacks — and that includes Michael Hoecht snatching 4.5 after moving from defensive tackle to a rusher coming out of the two-point stance. And that’s where one draft expert believes a two-time national champion defender can come in handy in the “Rams House” to improve the edge rush room: Nolan Smith of Georgia.
Luke Easterling of USA Today’s Draft Wire on Thursday, January 12 called on the Rams to take Smith at No. 36 overall. But along with his rush skills, Smith has the skillset that got Bleacher Report comparing him to this three-time Pro Bowler: Melvin Ingram.
What Smith Can Bring to the Rams if Taken
Smith was not on the field when his Bulldogs annihilated Texas Christian 65-7 inside the Rams’ home venue of SoFi Stadium on Monday, January 9 with the national championship on the line. He sat out with a torn pectoral muscle. He was involved in the game’s opening coin toss while being joined by past Georgia great and Rams franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.
But when he was on the field, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Smith brought a relentless streak to a loaded Georgia defense and some consistent tackling.
Smith delivered 114 tackles across his four seasons in Athens with 66 solo stops and 21 tackles for a loss. He added 11.5 career sacks with three forced fumbles in 2021. Even with his rather thin frame for a front seven edge defender, Bleacher Report’s Matt Holder praised how effective Smith is when taking on blockers.
“Physical at the point of attack and has pop in his hands to get extension and shed blocks from offensive tackles fairly easily. He’s violent when shedding and has shown flashes of using his quickness to defeat blocks, too,” Holder wrote.
Holder added that Smith knows how to “set the edge” versus outside zone plays (jet sweeps, designed option keeper runs) plus “is stronger than his 235-pound frame would suggest to hold his ground versus offensive tackles.” But another major strength of Smith’s game? He’s not one to miss tackles.
“Form tackler, good pad level, wraps up and runs his feet through contact. He’s not going to miss many tackles,” Holder said.
State of the Rams’ Edge Rush Room for 2023
Changes already started during the season for this group.
Takkarist McKinley went from late regular season addition to being released after not even being with the team for a month, as he parted ways on October 18, 2022. Then, Super Bowl 56 winners Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis were waived during the season on November 22 and December 15, respectively.
But there could be more. Hoecht is an exclusive rights free agent for the upcoming free agency period. Same with outside linebacker and NFC championship game hero Travin Howard, who snatched the final interception to send the Rams to Super Bowl 56. Defensive end A’Shawn Robinson, who has also slid inside on the line, is an unrestricted free agent.
The Rams should have plenty of opportunities to draft an edge rusher. While Smith has noticeable flaws in his frame and in having an arsenal of hand moves, his experience in playing for a multiple champion and playing in the always stout Southeastern Conference makes him battle tested enough to give the Rams edge help if drafted. And, he could add to the Georgia representation already in L.A. with Stafford and Smith’s former college teammate Derion Kendrick.