HERO Sports is counting down the days until the kickoff of the 2018 college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, by featuring the best player in the FBS at each jersey number, from 99-1. Each day, from May 18 through Aug. 24, we'll publish one article showcasing the best player whose jersey number matches the number of days remaining.
No. 15 Sutton Smith
Northern Illinois – DE
"[E]very single college in the world” looked at Sutton Smith when he was a dominating running back at Francis Howell High School in Saint Charles, Mo. He earned an invited to Alabama's Junior Day and even had a one-on-one meeting with Nick Saban.
“I thought I was going to be going somewhere in the SEC possibly after that," he told 247Sports.
Alabama never offered Smith a scholarship, nor did any other SEC school or any other FBS school not named Northern Illinois. He wound up as a three-star recruit (and the 1,835th-ranked recruit in the 2015 class), accepted the Huskies' offer and began his college career as a running back. Smith was quickly moved to defense and appeared in all 12 of Northern Illinois' games in 2016, though the redshirt freshman defensive end hardly made an impact, recording just 15 total tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
Then Sutton Smith posted one of the most dramatic one-year statistical improvements in FBS history, leading the country in tackles for loss (29.5) and sacks (14) while posting the highest Pro Football Focus grade among edge defenders.
"Sutton may be an even better player next year without even getting close to the numbers he put up last year because those are historic numbers,” head coach Rod Carey said. “Offenses have him circled. . . . He’s accepted that role.”
Smith added 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason and enters the season as the best pass-rushing defensive end and the best No. 15 in college football.
“I’m ready to clean someone’s clock.” he said.