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2019 NFL draft: Introducing Sutton Smith, the most decorated pass rusher in NIU history

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

The 2019 NFL draft may have the strongest class of edge defenders we’ve seen in recent memory. There are dozens of prospects who could make an immediate and sizable impact at the next level.

One such player is NIU’s Sutton Smith, who logged 15 sacks for the Huskies in 2018.

Smith recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his go-to pass-rushing plan, why his film should overshadow the small school doubts, any why you’d be foolish to write him off based on his size.

JM: How would you describe your skill set?

SS: I’m a quick-twitch player with a lot of strength. I’ve played well in a power scheme over the last couple of years. I feel like I have a skill set that universally fits any team at the next level.

JM: Many look at you as the most decorated player in NIU history. What goes through your mind when you hear that?

SS: It humbles me in a way. I know I’ve had a lot of people help get me to where I am today. It means a lot. There’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into that. I have to thank a lot of the guys, the training staff and the operations staff for everything. They help me get right. I have to give a lot of credit to a lot of people. They helped me do what I needed to do to get me to this point.

JM: How would you describe your pass rush arsenal?

SS: Everybody knows me as a speed guy, but my opponents are quick to find out that I’m not all about speed. They’re gonna see power and finesse as well. I throw a lot of things your way in order to throw you off your game. That’s my job. My job is to dismantle them in any way I can. That’s what I have to do.

JM: Say your initial move is stopped, how do you counter?

SS: A lot of people go to power when your initial move is stopped or slowed down. A lot of people would try to spin out of it. There’s a lot of feel when it comes to pass rushing. You have to feel what may work next. It depends where he’s at and where you’re at in regards to the quarterback. You have to feel that out in the moment. I would say the relentless part of my game is what helps me out in this area. I go as hard as I can to wear my opponent out. I wanna wear everybody on the offensive line out. My job is to frustrate the quarterback for 60 minutes. That’s my angle.

JM: Is there an NFL quarterback you’d love to sack?

SS: I feel like this is a trick question (laughs). Should I answer this? Let’s see. Tom Brady sounds like a lot of fun. Every quarterback. It doesn’t matter who I’m going up against. I’d love to sack them all. I’d love to get Russell Wilson. He’s such an athletic quarterback. He presents more of a challenge. He’s so elusive so I’d like to get him.

JM: That’s a good answer. I’m gonna hit you with two stereotypes you’re gonna hear throughout this draft process and I’d like to hear how you plan on addressing them. First off, people are gonna bring up the small school competition you faced.

SS: We see small schools beat the bigger schools all the time. The competition isn’t very far off. We play big schools all year round and for instance, we could have won all four of our games against the bigger competition we faced. They all came down to the second half and things just got away from us late into the third quarter. It didn’t go our way and things got turned around. In some conferences, there are some teams that are just not equipped with the right amount of high caliber players to compete but I would say about half the teams in each of the Group of 5 conferences, they have the players to beat any team in the nation. It just comes down to preparation. It’s about making sure you focus on the finer details of how to beat that team. That’s where games are won and lost. It’s not just based off talent. Everybody has talent. It’s all about preparation.

JM: You’ve proven people wrong your entire life, but how will you respond to those who will call you undersized throughout this process?

SS: They need to meet me first of all. Yeah, I’m 6-0, 238 pounds. That’s great. I think my play does most of the talking. There’s a lot of the players in the NFL that are 6-feet tall. There just are, it’s as simple as that. I can still get after the quarterback on a consistent basis. Any negativity I hear just lights a fire underneath me. I won’t listen to anyone telling me that I can’t do something. Obviously I’ll probably be looked at as more of an outside linebacker than a defensive linemen, and that’s perfectly fine with me. I will bring something to the table that a lot of these guys can’t. I’m a bad ass football player, and that’s how I go about anything that I do. I’m not gonna back down from a fight at all. In fact, I’m gonna bring the fight to your front door. I’m gonna prove to coaches that I’m worthy of being in the position that I’m in.

JM: That’s perfect. Thanks for your time, Sutton. What can NIU fans expect from Sutton Smith going forward?

SS: They can expect the same thing they saw at Northern. A hell of a player and a fun guy to be around. I can’t wait to make everybody proud.