Jets in Position to Throw ‘Curveball in Round 1′ of NFL Draft: Insider

Nolan Smith, Georgia

Getty Georgia Football defender Nolan Smith speaking to the media at the NFL Combine.

The full expectation is that the New York Jets will select an offensive lineman in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.

Todd McShay of ESPN told Rich Cimini that it’s “close to a lock” on Thursday, April 20. As we all know weird things can happen during the draft so nothing is ever official until it’s official.

Cimini said if fans are looking for a “defensive curveball in Round 1, the name to remember” is Nolan Smith out of Georgia.

The 6-foot-2, 238-pound defender was listed as an “EDGE” player at the 2023 NFL combine. Cimini said “on paper” it doesn’t appear Gang Green needs “another edge rusher” but said that mentality could change “if Smith somehow slips to [pick No.] 13.”

Nolan Smith Is an Intriguing Option for Jets in Draft

Smith is 22 years of age and just completed his fourth season for the Georgia Football program.

In 38 career games, he recorded 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and finished with 110 total tackles.

Rich Cimini said he is “undersized” to play defensive end in a 4-3 front (something the Jets operate in), but some of his rare gifts might make him an exception.

At the NFL combine, Smith tested off the charts in a variety of key categories.

  • 4.39 in the 40-yard dash
  • 41.5″ vertical jump
  • 10′ 8″ broad jump

That was the fastest time of any EDGE defender, best vertical jump, and the third best broad jump of his positional group.

Another possible projection is Smith playing the “Leo position” at the NFL level. That position is another team for a stand-up defensive end which according to Cimini is “closer to what he played in college.”

Jets head coach Robert Saleh worked with the Seattle Seahawks from 2011 through 2013 and he got familiar with that “Leo position” under Pete Carroll, per Cimini.

Nolan Smith Pro Comp, Draft Analytics, and Potential Jets Fit

According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, Smith is projected to be a first-round draft choice. In those projections, his draft stock is slotted at the No. 17 overall pick.

NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein said when you look at his size you’d assume he’s a pass rusher that is too undersized to stop the run but “the opposite is true.”

“Smith is hard to move off of his spot due to his technique and leverage, and he can be disruptive when firing into gaps,” Zierlein documented in Smith’s NFL draft combine profile. “He can get off the mark as a rusher, but lacks the counters and contact balance to consistently assault the pocket at a high rate.”

One concern a national scout from an NFC team shared with Zierlein was whether or not Smith could up through an NFL season:

“You worry about him holding up for 17 games with his size. I’m not worried about the toughness, but I just don’t know if he can carry more weight without it slowing him down.”

Speaking of concerns, I got some weird Darron Lee vibes from Smith when evaluating the two prospects. They have eerily similar height/weight profiles and tested similarly as athletes.

The major difference is Lee was far more productive during his collegiate career in less time (only two years) compared to Smith.

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