Can second-year first-rounder take a big jump in 2024?


Can second-year first-rounder take a big jump in 2024? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2024 season.

25. Brandon Graham
24. Nakobe Dean
23. Milton Williams
22. Jake Elliott
21. Nolan Smith

The Eagles are going to need more from Nolan Smith in Year 2.

The No. 30 overall pick didn’t play very much as a rookie and even when he did, his production wasn’t really there. That doesn’t mean he’s a bust, that doesn’t mean it was a bad pick. But it’s probably fair to characterize Smith’s rookie season as a bit of a disappointment.

As a rookie, Smith played in all 17 games but saw just 188 snaps on defense — 16%. In front of him, Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham all played more. And Smith finished with just 1 sack, 3 QB hits, 1 TFL and 18 tackles. Smith played a lot on special teams but the Eagles didn’t draft him in the first round to play special teams. They drafted him to get after the quarterback.

During his rookie training camp, there were a lot of good signs from Smith. He flashed. But during the season, that flash wasn’t there. Perhaps his injured shoulder really plagued him — although he refuses to talk about it. Or maybe we just saw some growing pains from a young player who was probably always going to take time as an undersized edge rusher.

Smith still won’t be a starter in Year 2. The Eagles brought back Sweat and they added Bryce Huff in the offseason before trading Haason Reddick. So Sweat and Huff are still ahead of Smith. But maybe he can take over some of those snaps from Graham, who enters his 15th and final NFL season in 2024.

Graham, by the way, saw a different version of Smith this spring.

“The confidence,” Graham said. “You can see his confidence growing, knowing that it’s more on him this year. You bring in [Bryce] Huff and you got Sweaty (Josh Sweat) but then you gotta see who’s right behind that. It’s a competition. We got some good players, some real good players to compete with each other every day, keep each other on our toes. That’s all you want in the room. You want people to keep elevating, keep getting better.

“I think he’s letting the doubts fuel him. I want to get him to where he want to go. Like I told him, take it one day at a time. You can’t worry about what people saying because when you start to perform, everything will change.”

The Eagles didn’t use a really heavy rotation at edge rusher in 2023. They rode Reddick and Sweat and their production waned in the second half of the season. They also played Graham a lot in Year 14.

Maybe they should have just played Smith more and let him build his confidence.

At least that’s what Howie Roseman suggested after the season ended.

“In retrospect, just seeing him certainly in the playoff game, one of the guys who played well in the playoff game, maybe giving him a little bit more time during the year and experience, we talked about that,” Roseman said at the Combine. “He’s got all the right tools in his body. He’s got the right mentality. And at the same time, he’s got to go out and show it.”

Smith should have that chance in 2024.

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