Generally, I like a lot of what Pro Football Focus puts out in the way of content. That said, every now and again some of their analysis and speculation concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers is seemingly way off the mark. A good example of this is the latest post on PFF by Ben Cooper that includes his deeper examination of the Steelers defensive front ahead of the start of the 2019 regular season.
While a good portion of what Cooper had to say about the likes of Steelers defensive players Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree for the 2019 season is seemingly spot on, he is way too ambitious when it comes to rookie outside linebacker Sutton Smith, the team’s first of three sixth-round draft picks this year.
Cooper writes of Sutton’s rookie season prospects:
Sutton Smith is also bound to get some playing time in 2019 as a rookie thanks to a stellar college career at Northern Illinois. The Steelers found a diamond in the rough when Smith fell into their lap in the sixth round. And even that’s an understatement — Smith was PFF’s second-highest graded edge defender in both 2017 and 2018. Having nearly 30 more quarterback pressures than the next-best edge defender led to a 93.8 grade in 2017, and a combination of pass-rushing and run-stopping prowess gave way to a 91.8 mark in 2018.
It remains to be seen where or how the Steelers plan to use Smith, but his college numbers don’t lie: playing time is in the cards.
While Smith certainly did have a solid college career as an undersized defensive end at Northern Illinois, expecting him to get much of any playing time on the defensive side of the football is quite honestly just silly and unfounded speculation. In fact, the only way that Smith likely winds up getting any playing time on defense during his rookie season would likely be the result of a number of injuries to Watt, Dupree, Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
While talking about Chickillo in his post, Cooper even admitted that the backup outside linebacker will likely only see limited snaps in 2019 barring injuries to the starters, Watt and Dupree. Does he think Smith will see more snaps than Chickillo, or even Adeniyi, without any injuries occurring? See the flaw here in his thinking?
If Cooper would have paid any attention to the Steelers offseason practices he would know that Sutton is having to prove he can wear multiple hats this summer in an effort to help him ultimately have a better shot at making the 53-man roster. Sutton’s gotten some limited practice time at fullback during the offseason practices to show what he can do and he’s made it known more than once that he knows he’ll have to likely be a solid core special teams players during training camp and the preseason just to make the initial 53-man roster.
Look, I look forward to watching Smith play a considerable amount of snaps during the preseason and in all three phases and also look forward to reading and listening to the first-hand reports about him that come out training camp. He was a a fun player to research and break down after the Steelers drafted him but with that said, and while I do understand that PFF was a bit more bullish on the player than most ahead of this year’s draft, it’s really irresponsible to speculate that he’ll see the field on the defensive side of the football much at all during his rookie season. In fact, Smith logging more than 15 defensive snaps during his rookie season probably means the Steelers suffered several injuries at the outside linebacker position.