One of the most dominant pass rushers in college football is Pittsburgh-bound.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Northern Illinois outside linebacker Sutton Smith with the 175th pick of the sixth round in the 2019 NFL Draft. Smith is the second Northern Illinois draftee this year after offensive tackle Max Scharping landed a job with the Texans in the second round. Smith is also the second MAC player taken by the Steelers this draft after Pittsburgh selected Diontae Johnson in the early third round. The Steelers now have seven MAC players chosen in the past six NFL Drafts.
Smith played defensive end at Northern Illinois, where he was as dominant as any defensive end in his two years as a starter. He led the FBS in sacks with 14.0 in 2017 and followed that up by ranking third in the category in 2018 with 15.0 sacks. Smith produced 56.5 tackles for loss in past two seasons combined, ranking first in the category nationally during 2018. He spearheaded one of the better run defenses and pass rush units in the country and guided the Huskies to the MAC Championship in 2018, their first in four years.
He was rewarded with his efforts as a 2-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year and 2-time AP All-American. Even better, Smith was chosen as a First Team All-American by several selectors, including the FWAA for his dominance in opposing backfields. He’s extremely quick off the line of scrimmage and often blazes by linemen with speed. Smith played running back in high school at Missouri, where he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior.
Another position change is awaiting for Smith. At 6’1” and 237 pounds, he is undersized for a defensive end, so he’ll likely play outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Immediately, he should be able to make an impact at special teams, which is another aspect of the game he excelled in at Northern Illinois. Smith blocked punts, forced seven fumbles, recovered six fumbles, and scored four touchdowns on defense and special teams.
The Steelers currently start T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree at outside linebacker. Defensively, Smith will likely compete down the depth chart with Anthony Chickillo and former Western Michigan outside linebackers Robert Spillane and Keion Adams.
Smith is the fifth Northern Illinois draft pick of the Rod Carey era (2012-18). He is the highest NIU defender to be drafted since Jimmie Ward was chosen 30th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Smith was the 15th outside linebacker taken in the 2019 NFL Draft.