Nolan Smith

A rookie kicks off list of top 25 most important Eagles in 2023

Rookie Nolan Smith kicks off our list of the most important Eagles in 2023

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Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2023 season.

25. Nolan Smith

If the Eagles decided to stay put at No. 10 and draft Nolan Smith, no one would have been all that shocked. It probably wouldn’t have even seemed like a reach.

So the fact that they were able to get him at No. 30 in the draft was pretty impressive. And they were pretty surprised it happened.

“Yeah, I think that's one of the things in the draft you have to be flexible,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. “You go into the draft and you say here are a couple names at 30, and then you see guys sitting up there like Nolan and again, an incredible person. Obviously, he has unbelievable traits in his body, a leader and a winner. For us, we were fielding calls at that time, and I think Coach (Nick Sirianni) and I kind of looked at each other like this is the guy. We didn't want to get too cute, and we're excited to add him.”

The Eagles traded up from that No. 10 pick to No. 9 to draft Jalen Carter (something tells me we’ll get to him later on this countdown) and then landed his Georgia teammate later in the first round. While Carter will be expected to have a bigger role in his rookie season, Smith is entering a really ideal situation.

In 2023, the Eagles bring back their starting edge rushers in Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, as well as their top rotational player in Brandon Graham. All three of those players finished with double digit sacks in 2022. So Smith will enter his rookie season in a great spot: Because he’ll have opportunity without immense pressure.

Based on what we’ve heard from Smith, he has a chance to be a fan favorite pretty quickly too.

It’s a little tricky to figure out exactly what Smith’s role will be with the Eagles in 2023 for a couple reasons. One, they have a new defensive coordinator in Sean Desai. Two, their fourth pass rusher from 2022 was Derek Barnett and he got hurt in the first game of the season. Patrick Johnson ended up with the fourth-most snaps among Eagles edge rushers last year with 213 (19%). That has to be the absolute floor for Smith as a rookie. You can probably expect Smith to play much more than that in 2023.

While Smith is undersized at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, he’s an athletic freak with incredible potential as an edge rusher in the NFL. If you’re looking for a comp, the obvious one is Reddick, who has thrived the past three seasons in the league as an undersized edge rusher. Smith never had more than 3 1/2 sacks in any season at Georgia but the Eagles aren’t concerned about that. They see him as a player who can really thrive in the NFL.

Smith missed the final six games of his senior season with a pec injury but is healthy now and participated in Eagles OTAs.

If you’re wondering, the Eagles’ rookie record in sacks was set by Corey Simon back in 2000 with 9.5, followed by Derrick Burgess (6.0 in 2001) and Fletcher Cox (5.5 in 2012) and Mike Mamula (5.5 in 1995). Given his role behind three Pro Bowlers, it might be tough for Smith to get enough snaps to break a record. But he has huge upside and will need to contribute from Day 1.

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