NFL Combine Notes 3/3: Georgia’s Nolan Smith, Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey run blazing 40s
He was said to be the “glue” that held Georgia’s historically deep and talented defense together.
Sure, the linebacker was a bit on the small size, but on a roster full of future NFL players, he was the captain, and his fearlessness helped him pile up stats.
The problem? His size. He was measured at 5-foot-11, 229 pounds at the Combine and couldn’t work out due to a pectoral injury. So the hope was that he would put on a show during Georgia’s Pro Day. Instead, he reportedly ran a 4.74-40.
Next thing you know, Nakobe Dean was a third-round pick by Philadelphia this past draft instead of the “sure-fire” first-rounder everyone thought he would be just months earlier.
One year later, Georgia has another undersized linebacker that draft analysts and NFL personnel alike can’t seem to figure out: Nolan Smith, who was the talk of the Combine earlier this week.
While Dean and Smith played linebacker for the Bulldogs, Dean was always seen as more of an inside linebacker. And both suffered pectoral injuries that ended their final seasons prematurely.
The two players have almost identical measurements. Dean’s measurements at the 2022 Combine included an arm length of 31 7/8-inches and a hand size of 9 1/8-inches. By comparison, Smith this week measured in at 6-foot-2, 238-pounds with an arm length of 32 5/8-inches and a hand size of 9 inches.
Like Dean, Smith’s size has given analysts pause: Is he big enough to hold up against NFL competition – even if he goes to a 3-4 team that plays him as a pass-rushing outside linebacker? Could he be used as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3, then used as a designated pass rusher on passing downs?
And is he a “three-down” player?
However, Smith suffered his injury earlier in the season than Dean did during the 2021 season, so Smith was able to participate in select drills on Thursday.
That’s when he showcased perhaps his best skills: pure speed and amazing athleticism.
Smith ran a 4.39-second 40 on Thursday. NFL Research says that’s the second-fastest time by a defensive lineman in Combine history, while ESPN says Smith’s 40 time is the third-fastest among front seven players.
According to ESPN, Smith is also the second-heaviest player to run a sub-4.4 40 and have a 40-plus inch vertical at the Combine.
By comparison, Alabama’s Will Anderson, regarded as the top pass rusher and a candidate to go first overall, ran a respectable 4.60 40.
But Smith wasn’t finished turning heads.
He also tied for the fastest 10-yard split (1.52), had the top vertical jump (41.50) and had the fourth-best broad jump (10’8”).
And, oh yeah, Smith reportedly was great during team interviews.
Combined, it was enough to move Smith up to No. 25 in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board.
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Smith wasn’t the only defensive player to turn heads on Thursday due to his speed. Some other notable performances include:
* DL Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh (6-foot-1, 281 pounds; No. 28 in Fanspeak-Rigdon big board): His 4.67 40 is the fastest by a defensive tackle at the Combine since 2006, when ESPN Stats & Information began tracking the data. Often compared to another former Pittsburgh defensive lineman, future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, Kancey led all interior defenders last season with 14.5 tackles for loss while also adding 7.5 sacks. For what it’s worth, Donald ran a 4.68 40 at the 2014 Combine and measured at 6-foot-1, 285-pounds. Kancey’s arm length (30 5/8-inches) and hand size (9 1/8-inches) were smaller than Donald’s Combine measurements (32 5/8-inches and 9 7/8-inches, respectively).
* Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore (No. 77) might have been the star Thursday if he had been listed as a defensive lineman. Instead, the 6-foot-2, 282-pound Adebawore is seen as more of a tweener and was listed as a defensive end at the Combine. Otherwise, Adebawore had an even faster 40 at 4.49 seconds. He also registered a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-5-inch broad jump. According to ESPN, Adebawore’s 40-time is believed to be the fastest for any player electronically timed at the combine who weighs 280-pounds or more.
* Iowa edge Lukas Van Ness (6-foot-5, 272-pounds; No. 11), USC edge/DL Tuli Tuipulotu (No. 30), Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (6-foot-4, 249-pounds; No. 45), Tennessee edge Byron Young (6-foot-2, 250-pounds; No. 80) and Auburn edge Derick Hall (6-foot-3, 254-pounds; No. 57) were among the front-seven prospects who had a good day on Thursday.
* NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter said Army Edge Andre Carter II (No. 123), Michigan edge Mike Morris (No. 68), LSU defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy (No. 208), Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders (No. 36) and Alabama defensive lineman Byron Young (No. 113) had rough outings. Sanders chose not to participate in any testing, and his measurements were considered good but not great at a shade under 6-foot-5, 235-pounds with an arm-length of 32 1/8-inches. Carter, meanwhile, has good height and adequate weight at 6-foot-6, 252-pounds, but his arm length (33 3/8-inches) and testing numbers were just average for his position. He also skipped the 40.
* As expected, Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith (6-foot-3, 323-pounds; No. 31) led all players Thursday with 34 reps in the bench press.
* This time last month, South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith (No. 46) was firmly entrenched as a first-rounder and was the No. 1 cornerback in the Fanspeak-Rigdon big board. However, Smith has steadily seen his stock fall since then. Walter Football’s Hot Press Report recently shed some light as to why Smith has been falling. According to its March 1 report, teams have some character concerns about the 6-foot, 190-pound corner. Here’s what an area scout told Walter Football: “He’s a good player but lacks twitch and explosion. He grabs too much. He’s a man corner; the lack of twitch makes him a bad fit in zone. He’s really good in press man. His instincts and ball skills are pretty good.”
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. His big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft. Message him on Twitter to receive $3 off your new Ultimate GM subscription.