There wasn’t a lot of clarity about why the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. A vastly undersized player at his position, he would even be on the small side to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 system such as the Steelers.
So it wasn’t obvious what position he would play, with defensive coordinator Keith Butler talking about the possibility of him being able to play both outside and inside, and how they got a look at him doing inside linebacker drills during the Senior Bowl week.
General Manager Kevin Colbert appeared on 93.7 The Fan yesterday to discuss a diversity of topics relating to the Steelers, and at one point the depth at outside linebacker came up in relation to Bud Dupree and his future. In the course of his answer, he made it clear that, at least for now, the team is viewing Smith as part of the outside linebacker group.
“He’ll be projected to be an outside linebacker for us. We talk about, ‘well, he’s gonna be short’ and this and that, but he was very productive like James Harrison was in the MAC with 13.5 sacks and 15 sacks, so can the shorter guys succeed as an outside rusher? Yes, they can. Again, we look at James for that reference”.
Smith, who had 30 sacks in his college career, that production generally coming in his final two seasons, is listed officially at 6’0” on the team’s website and 232 pounds. The team does not distinguish between inside linebacker and outside linebacker there, but he is substantially lighter than the other outside linebackers on the team.
Notably, Dupree is 6’4” and listed at 269 pounds, though I believe he plays at a lower weight now. Watt at the same height has a listed weight of 252 pounds, while both Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi also hover around that mark. Keion Adams is slightly lighter but listed at 245 pounds. Adeniyi and Adams, however, are both shorter at 6’1” and 6’2”, respectively.
Smith is not the team’s first crack at adding and undersized outside linebacker, having drafted Travis Feeney in 2016, also in the sixth round. At 6’4” and listed at just 226 pounds, he spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad before being signed from there by the New Orleans Saints, but he most recently played in the AAF.
Obviously one of Smith’s top priorities this offseason will be to hit the weight room, but he doesn’t have the frame like a James Harrison to significantly bulk up, and he is going to have to figure out ways to use his size to his advantage. He was successful ducking under less athletic tackles in the MAC conference, but can he transfer that to All-Pro tackles at the NFL level?