Steelers add depth to defense with 3 picks in 6th round
Three draft picks were held by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, and they used all three on defensive players — two from Mid-American Conference schools.
With their first pick of the sixth round – No. 175 overall – the Steelers grabbed Sutton Smith, a 6-foot, 234-pound outside linebacker/edge rusher from Northern Illinois. With the No. 192 selection, they took Isaiah Buggs, a 6-3, 306-pound defensive lineman from Alabama. At No. 207, the Steelers selected 6-0, 224-pound Toledo linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III.
Smith declared for the draft with one year of eligibility remaining.
Smith was Missouri’s large-school player of the year as a running back, but Northern Illinois was the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship, and he was switched to defense.
As a sophomore, he was the MAC defensive player of the year when he had 29.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. He repeated the defensive honor in 2018 when he had 26.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks.
“My path is to fight,” Smith said. “That’s all I know to do is fight. I’m going to do everything I can to prove to people that I can be an NFL player.”
At the NFL Combine, Smith had the best time in the 3-cone drill (6.75 seconds) of any other linebacker or edge rusher.
Smith said he will be used initially on the inside, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that is a possibility, but the Steelers also want to deploy Smith on the outside. Special teams also will be part of Smith’s immediate future. He played on kickoff and punt units at Northern Illinois.
“We’ll get him here, see what he does best,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
By taking Buggs with their next pick, the Steelers drafted an Alabama defensive lineman late for the second year in a row, taking Joshua Frazier in the seventh round last year.
“We’re surprised he was still on the board in the sixth round,” defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said.
Dunbar held the same position at Alabama when he recruited Buggs from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Buggs started all 28 games in his two seasons with the Crimson Tide and had 9.5 sacks as a senior. He broke up three passes and forced two fumbles.
“He was explosive and a kid who could get off the edge,” Dunbar said. “He was a good pass rusher over the offensive guards, and that was another thing we liked about him.”
Gilbert was a three-year starter at Akron, getting 121 as a sophomore and 140 as a junior. He had 28.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in four seasons. He made a top-30 visit to the Steelers in the predraft process.
“He could really cover a lot of ground – sideline to sideline, and he’ll hit you,” inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said. “That’s what we look for.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .