One day after tearing up at the podium, edge rusher Nolan Smith turned heads on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf during the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday.
The former Georgia standout ran the fastest 40-yard dash by a defensive lineman, clocking 4.39 seconds. It was tied for the best of the day with Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe and was the second-fastest time from an edge rusher since 2003. Nolan’s time even beat out that of star NFL running backs Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey.
Back in Georgia, video surfaced of Smith’s college teammates watching his 40-yard dash in the team facility and wildly celebrating the result as Smith was initially clocked with an unofficial time of 4.44 seconds before the official tame came in .05 seconds lower.
Amare Barno of Virginia Tech ran a 4.36 at last year’s combine. Ten players on the first day of workouts posted times under 4.5.
Linebackers and defensive linemen were the only players to do on-field drills Thursday and will finish their week with Friday’s bench press as defensive backs and special teamers take the field.
Smith, who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, was the star attraction.
He and Pappoe also shared top honors in the split (1.52 seconds) and Smith’s 41 1/2-inch vertical also was the best of the day — three inches ahead of Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji and 3 1/2 inches ahead of the next closest defensive lineman.
Even when Smith wasn’t the leader, he was close. His 10 foot, 8-inch broad jump was tied for fourth on the day.
Smith’s college teammate, defensive tackle Jalen Carter, was back in Indianapolis after turning himself in to law enforcement for charges related to the fatal crash that killed offensive lineman Devin Willock and a recruiting staff member in January.
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Smith was emotional Wednesday in his first public comments since Willock died.
“I get sensitive talking about it just because I love him,” a visibly choked-up Smith said of Willock. “He never did anything wrong in his three years [at Georgia]. He was supposed to graduate. … No one should deserve to die like that.”
Smith said he told his former Georgia teammates who “lost a brother” to “do it for Dev” next season as the Bulldogs aim for their third straight national championship.
A day later, Smith was initially upset with his 40-yard dash, thinking he’d clocked something like 4.40. “I thought I didn’t run my fastest time,” he told the NFL Network. “I thought I had a little more juice, and I felt like I was going 85%.”
Told that his official time was 4.39, Smith said, “That made my day. That got me a little excited.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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