Strong combine performance a key to Sutton’s early round chances

Cam Sutton’s impressive Senior Bowl performance improved his draft stock. With the NFL Combine two weeks away, another positive performance can only improve his draft stock.

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

Tennessee cornerback #23 Cameron Sutton waits on the Nebraska snap during the Vols' 38-24 win over the Huskers at the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tennessee.

After a strong Senior Bowl Performance, Cam Sutton put his name back on the radar for the upcoming draft. An impressive sophomore campaign brought whispers of the Tennessee cornerback as a first-round pick. Then a poor second half of his junior season led him to return for his senior year, which became an injury-plagued 2016 season. Sutton lost most of the draft hype he originally gained two seasons ago, and it doesn’t help that the 2017 cornerback class is arguably the deepest position in terms of talent.

Granted, Sutton looked fine in his six games of action this past season but his fibula injury limited his opportunities to show off his abilities. Combine that with the fact that a number of cornerbacks had 2016 campaigns worthy of first-round hype and it’s understandable why he may get overlooked.

Despite that, Sutton took advantage of the Senior Bowl and used an impressive weekend to prove why he’s still worthy of a pick in the top two rounds. Displaying his versatility, coaches lined him up at outside corner, in the slot and at safety, and he looked strong at each position.

His versatility serves as one of his biggest strengths for the next level and proving he’s comfortable in coverage at multiple positions bodes well for his draft stock going forward. Add that to his exceptional ball skills and body control, and there are going to be teams drafting early who are willing to overlook his lack of size and length.

Sutton is an incredible athlete and possesses all of the coverage skills NFL scouts look for. His combination of fluid hips, short-area quickness and recovery speed make him a good fit at either outside or slot cornerback. Those skills also make him an interesting choice at safety. To go along with these attributes, his leadership and work ethic are immeasurable strengths that will serve well in the pre-draft interview process.

While the Tennessee senior displays a number of strengths, some glaring weaknesses will keep certain teams away on draft day, depending on their requirements for drafting a cornerback. For one, poor measurables serve as the main factor for Sutton’s lack of first-round hype. Listed at 5 feet 11 inches and 182 pounds, he’ll likely fall in the bottom twentieth percentile for both categories.

Even worse, Sutton’s arms may measure under 30 inches (listed at 29.5 inches), which is a rarity among NFL cornerbacks. A lack of length typically makes it tough in press man coverage, especially in the NFL. Noted, he was apparently playing tight press coverage throughout the Senior Bowl week and impressed.

In addition, Sutton’s work in the run game is a major work in progress and is an undervalued concept for secondary players in the NFL. This weakness puts a big question mark on his fit at safety for now.

As for the NFL Combine, Sutton should probably pass the medical portion followed by the interview process, which he should excel in. While the measurable tests will do nothing but prove what’s already known about the lack of size, several of the athletic tests will provide the senior cornerback with a chance to shine and potentially boost his stock.

His times in the shuttle runs and the 40-yard dash specifically are vital to Sutton’s overall performance at the combine. The 20-yard shuttle accounts for a player’s agility and a time near the top bodes well for the thought of Sutton as some type of hybrid safety/nickel slot corner. The 40-yard dash, obviously accounts for speed and a time around 4.5 or lower is ideal for a cornerback.

If he can run the 20 yard shuttle around the 3.9 second range and the 40-yard dash in the high 4.4 to low 4.5 range, teams will certainly catch notice. He should also run well in the three-cone drill, although this test holds more importance for linebackers and pass rushers.

If he can exceed these expectations, could a team drafting late in the first decide to take a shot on the versatile cornerback? Maybe.

Unfortunately for Sutton, such a role is not much of a need for the teams who own the final eight picks of the first round. Even with an A+ combine performance, the second round appears to be his ceiling. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though.

Sutton’s game is similar to that of former Vanderbilt cornerback and 5-year pro Casey Hayward, who was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. Not only has Hayward earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 80 or higher in four of his five seasons, but he’s also totaled 16 interceptions, including seven this past year and six as a rookie.

At the combine, Hayward measured at 5 feet 11 inches and 192 pounds with an arm length of 30.2 inches. He also ran a 3.89 20 yard shuttle (96th percentile) but only timed at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Sound familiar?

While Sutton may not match the 3.89 time, he surely will come close and one would expect him to run the 40 a bit faster than Hayward. Like the former Commodore, Sutton has the ball skills to create turnovers at the next level.

What separates the two is their play in the run game. Hayward has performed adequately over his time in the pros. For Sutton to prove this comparison valid, he will need to improve this aspect of his game. It will take some work, but if he can play with more aggression against the run, Sutton has the rest of the tools to make a positive impact on the field.

With a strong combine, the senior cornerback is very deserving of a selection in the top-50, but at the end of the day, his performance as a pro is what’s ultimately important. Sutton’s skillset and versatility are ideal for today’s NFL, and teams are always looking to depth to what is considered the hardest position in the league. His coverage skills indicate a second contract is possible (the average span of a cornerback’s career is 2.92 years).

If he can progress in the run game and display his ball skills and abilities in coverage, Sutton has the potential to cash out after his rookie deal. Thanks to a high football IQ and strong work ethic, don’t count him out.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Featured image by Ben Proffitt

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