According to Mike Triplett, who covers the New Orleans Saints for ESPN, the Saints are signing former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sutton Smith.
The twist is that he’s no longer playing outside linebacker—the Saints plan to play him at fullback.
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Of course, the position switch doesn’t come completely out of the blue. When he was a rookie, the Steelers did give the two-time Mid-American Conference (MAC) Defensive Player of the Year reps at fullback, perhaps keeping in mind that he’s just six feet tall and 238 pounds (the appropriate size for a fullback), not to mention a 2,000-yard rusher during his senior year in high school.
Never mind that Smith, now 25, was exclusively a pass-rushing defensive end at Northern Illinois, where he recorded an eye-popping 30 sacks and 58 tackles for loss.
Smith is a Former Sixth-Round Draft Pick
The reality is that Smith’s NFL career hasn’t gone very far since the Steelers made him a sixth-round pick in 2019 (No. 175 overall). The main obstacle has been his size, or lack thereof, which makes him ill-equipped to play outside linebacker at the professional level.
Since being released by the Steelers in September 2019 (having been hampered by a torn oblique in training camp), Smith has bounced around from practice squad to practice squad, first joining the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming back to the Steelers and then moving on to the Seattle Seahawks.
Depth at Outside Linebacker Remains a Need for Steelers
Meanwhile, the Steelers are still searching for depth at outside linebacker. In fact, it’s arguably an even greater need now than it was in 2019, thanks to the recent loss of starter Bud Dupree and backup Ola Adeniyi, both of whom moved on to the Tennessee Titans in free agency.
At the moment, former third-round pick Alex Highsmith is projected to start opposite AP Defensive Player of the Year runner-up T.J. Watt. Beyond that the Steelers have precious little in the way of proven NFL talent. Cassius Marsh—who originally came to Pittsburgh late last season when the Steelers plucked him off the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts—is looking like one backup, while 2021 sixth-round pick Quincy Roche (Miami) is looking like the most promising option to become the team’s other backup.
For one, Pro Football Focus views Roche as one of the Top 10 “steals” of the 2021 Draft. “There’s been no more productive pass rusher in college football over the past two seasons than Roche,” says PFF, highlighting the 104 pressures he produced during that time frame.
On the other hand, there’s a reason that Roche remained available until the sixth round, and the Steelers may find that he doesn’t have enough physical ability to succeed against NFL offensive tackles. But for the moment, Roche is the most promising new option they’ve got.
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