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2019 NFL Draft prospect profile: Sutton Smith EDGE/LB, Nothern Illinois

Could the undersized small-school speed rusher help the Giants’ pass rush?

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Northern Illinois at Buffalo Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants need help with their pass rush. We knew their pass rush could be anemic at best last offseason, and that bore true throughout the 2018 regular season.

The Giants were among the best teams in the NFL in creating pressure, but one of the absolute worst in translating that pressure into production. A big part of that was due to shoddy coverage and defensive coordinator James Bettcher having to rely on zone coverage more than he would probably have liked. However, the Giants also lacked a speed rusher who could strike fear into offenses and run past offensive tackles before the ball was out of a quarterback’s hands.

Sutton Smith, out of Northern Illinois, isn’t what the NFL normally thinks of when they picture dominant pass rushers. But that’s exactly what he was.



  • Ridiculous production since becoming a full-time player.
  • Fantastic first step.
  • Great bend, flexibility, agility, and short-area quickness.
  • Able to play out of a two- or three-point stance.
  • Advanced hand usage to keep from being enveloped by blockers.


  • Very undersized. Will likely have to transition to another role at the next level.
  • Doesn’t have much upside as a run defending EDGE.
  • Will face a steep jump in competition from NIU to the NFL.
  • Size could fall below many teams’ thresholds.
  • Occasionally over-aggressive and bites on ball-fakes.

Prospect Video

What They’re Saying

Sutton Smith/Edge/Northern Illinois: Smith was a player I spoke highly of during our NIU scouting preview last June, as he’s an omnipresent force on film. Despite size limitations (six feet, 235 pounds), he is constantly disrupting the opponent’s game plan, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and forcing the action. His stats this season include 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, seven hurries and four forced fumbles. During the loss to Miami-Ohio last week he posted three tackles, one tackle for loss and two hurries. Smith is likely a mid-round pick when he enters the draft, and a creative defensive coordinator will find ways to maximize his talents.”

- Tony Pauline (

Note: Smith finished the season with 26.5 tackles for a loss, 15.0 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles

Does He Fit The Giants?

Smith’s fit with the Giants is a curious one.

On the one hand, the Giants in general, as well as GM Dave Gettleman, have shown a definite preference for big players at just about every position. Smith isn’t just undersized for an EDGE player, but very undersized.

However, he absolutely screams off the edge and has a legitimately remarkable first step. He also shows good hand usage and leverage to keep himself clean and beat much larger offensive tackles on his way to the quarterback. His motor runs white-hot on every rep and he has been a hugely productive player since becoming a full-time starter. Over the last two years he piled up 56.5 tackles for a loss, 29 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 3 touchdowns, and four passes defensed.

Interestingly, he is roughly the same size as Haason Reddick, who was a very productive (but undersized) EDGE at Temple, before transitioning to off-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl -- a career path which Smith seems to be following. Reddick was drafted for James Bettcher’s defense just two years ago. So the fit is there for the Giants, and there have been reports that the Giants specifically scouted Smith multiple times throughout the 2018 season, including at his impressive 5 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 sack performance against Akron.

Smith’s speed, agility, and short-area quickness suggest that he has upside as an off-ball linebacker if he is able to make the transition. Having a player who is capable of chasing down plays, dropping into coverage or be a constant threat to blitz (and be devastatingly effective doing so) on any given play would be a tremendous advantage for Bettcher’s defense.

He just has to prove that his potential and production are big enough to satisfy Gettleman.