Sutton Smith’s life has been surrounded by just as much success as it has change. His football career has followed a very consistent pattern. Smith excels at a position but is asked to change. He accepts the challenge and excels at his new position before he is asked to change positions once again. It does not look like Smith will get to enjoy any comfortability with just one sole position as the Pittsburgh Steelers mentioned using him as both an inside linebacker and outside linebacker along with special team duties. For Smith, this is nothing new, he has been in this very same position before.
When Smith arrived at Norther Illinois as a freshman in 2015, he stepped onto the scene as a very accomplished running back. Coming from Francis Howell high school, Smith told Corey Miller he recorded around 2400 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns his senior year but had only one collegiate offer, from Northern Illinois. He accepted and was ready to play running back until one day in training camp changed everything. A fumbled snap by his quarterback led to Smith making a tackle – a tackle that would change his life forever.
“The safety picked it up and I came out of nowhere and laid him out. Next thing you know I was in coach (Rod) Carey’s office and was told, ‘Hey, you’re getting moved to linebacker,” he told Chris Hummer.
Smith’s time as a linebacker did not last long as he moved into a permanent pass rushing role heading into the 2017 season. Not only did he rise to the occasion but he performed better than anyone could have expected.
The Northern Illinois pass rusher recorded 56.5 tackles for a loss and 29 sacks over his final two seasons, being named MAC Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive years. Smith led the NCAA in tackles for a loss in both 2018 and 2017 but yet it still was not enough. He was labelled undersized and was a late invite to the 2019 Senior Bowl, but not as a pass rusher but as a off ball linebacker. Another position change seemed to be on the horizon for Smith.
With an iffy week at the Senior Bowl, the concerns on Smith’s size and level of competition intensified. It was during this time, that the new Steelers linebacker showed that while he may lack size, he did not lack any character, handling the adversity head on. Speaking to Justin Melo, Smith first dismissed the notion that he played against lesser competition, stating that it is preparation not just skill that separates the best from the rest of the pack.
“It just comes down to preparation. It’s about making sure you focus on the finer details of how to beat that team. That’s where games are won and lost. It’s not just based off talent. Everybody has talent. It’s all about preparation.”
Next he was asked about his size and the 6’0 Smith gave a passionate and fiery response.
“Yeah, I’m 6-0, 238 pounds. That’s great. I think my play does most of the talking. There’s a lot of the players in the NFL that are 6-feet tall. There just are, it’s as simple as that. I can still get after the quarterback on a consistent basis. Any negativity I hear just lights a fire underneath me. I won’t listen to anyone telling me that I can’t do something.”
Smith has made it this far by proving people wrong and he certainly is not about to give up yet. The Steelers did not draft a player who will go gently into the night; they drafted a player who will keep fighting until the final bell.
“I’m not gonna back down from a fight at all. In fact, I’m gonna bring the fight to your front door. I’m gonna prove to coaches that I’m worthy of being in the position that I’m in,” Smith told Melo.
No matter what position the Steelers decide to use him in, Smith is going to fight to prove his worth. Based off history, there is a good chance he finds a way to succeed.