It was surprising to see Sutton Smith get work at fullback during spring OTAs and minicamp. And odds are, it’s going to happen again in training camp and the preseason. It has nothing to do with taking away a roster spot from someone like Roosevelt Nix but a unique chance to become the ultimate chess piece, even as a backup. Fullback, linebacker, and special teams player? It’s been done before.
And pretty recently, too. Compare Smith’s path to Denver’s Spencer Larsen. Larsen was the last player to start a game on offense and defense back in 2008, playing fullback and linebacker, and only one of the few to do it in decades. Since 2003, Orlando Brown and Larsen are the only two with that on their resume.
Larsen was like Smith coming out of college. Not as productive in sacks, though he had 131 tackles his senior season, but a two-way player in high school, FB and LB, who played the latter at Arizona. Smith was a RB/LB in high school. Both players tested similarly at the Combine and were ultimately drafted less than ten spots apart.
|Category||Spencer Larsen||Sutton Smith|
|Draft Selection||183rd Overall||175th Overall|
The team called upon Larsen to fill the void in the backfield in training camp after Peyton Hillis was moved from FB to RB. In mid-November, he officially became a two-way player, news that seemed to catch even Larsen off guard.
“Larsen said he was told Monday he would play linebacker this week, but he said even he was surprised to also start on offense.
“I didn’t think I would play much fullback,” Larsen said in this ESPN article.
He would go on to spend four years with Denver, making 15 career starts and carrying the ball 17 times. He had 15 tackles defensively. He spent another two years in the league, one with New England, another with Tampa Bay before his career came to a close.
Sutton is in a similar boat. No one is expecting him to start out of the gate, certainly not on defense, and his ceiling is likely capped like Larsen’s was. Career backup with the goal of being a quality special teamer. Larsen was certainly known for his ability to lay the lumber.
It’s certainly possible Smith has a similar story. Maybe Roosevelt Nix gets hurt mid-season and the Steelers have to find his replacement for a game. And Smith certainly has the potential to cover kicks and punts at a high level with his hand use, effort, and good-enough athleticism. If he becomes the Spencer Larsen, for a 6th round flier, it was well worth the pick.