With the 2023 NFL Draft just two days away, rumors and speculation continue to flood the internet and air waves. On Tuesday, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN dropped an interesting possibility for the Pittsburgh Steelers at 17th overall, as he suggested to Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan that Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith could be a sleeper pick for Pittsburgh in the first round.
“Nolan Smith. Pass rusher from Georgia is a guy I’m watching there. The teams I’ve talked to say he won’t make it past 17. So that would imply that Pittsburgh might have interest there,” Fowler said.
Outside linebacker is a need for the Steelers, as they essentially have nothing behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, but it’s consider by many as a back-burner to offensive tackle and cornerback. It’s more of a depth need since they still have top-flight talent in Watt and Highsmith. But if Smith is still around and he’s the best player available on the Steelers’ board, it wouldn’t be surprising if Omar Khan made the move. Mike Tomlin said the Steelers have “no glaring needs,” so it implies that things could be wide open.
Highsmith is also playing on the final year of his contract and should be up for a massive pay day, so Smith could be a fallback option. Historically, the Steelers also love drafting linebackers in the first round. From 2013-2019, the Steelers drafted five linebackers in the first round — Jarvis Jones (2013), Ryan Shazier (2014), Bud Dupree (2015), T.J. Watt (2017) and Devin Bush (2019).
Standing at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, Smith ran an impressive 4.39 40-time at the NFL Scouting Combine. For certain, Smith is a freakish athlete on the edge. He’s still very raw as a pass rusher who needs to refine his hand usage, but with his incredible get-off and natural athleticism, he has the potential to blossom into a dynamic edge rusher with the right coaching and system.
In just eight games in 2022 (Smith’s season was cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle), he recorded 18 total tackles (14 solos), three sacks and seven tackles for a loss. In 11 games in 2021, Smith registered 53 total tackles (29 solos), 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for a loss.
Tomlin and Khan had a front row seat to Smith at his Georgia pro day. They also saw his blazing speed at the Combine, along with what he did on tape in the SEC, the best college football conference in the country. Smith hasn’t been linked to the Steelers a lot in mock drafts or just in general, but he does checks off a lot of boxes. And if by chance, he’s the BPA when the Steelers select at 17th overall on Thursday night, it wouldn’t be earth-shattering news to see the former Bulldog in the Black and Gold.