When anyone mentions South Carolina and defensive end, the first name that comes to mind is Jadeveon Clowney and with good reason. It is worth noting that each of the past two years that guy playing across from Clowney was drafted, first with Melvin Ingram going in the first round to San Diego in 2011 and then Devin Taylor this past season as a fourth round pick to the Detroit Lions. This coming year could be the third in a row with Chaz Sutton, who has been a rotational defensive end who has also played as a defensive tackle in the Gamecocks take on the New York Giants NASCAR package, featuring pass rushers at all four defensive line spots. Sutton also has experience as an outside linebacker in the Leo role.
Sutton is entering his fifth year for the Gamecocks and while he contributed 21 solo tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a pass deflection, there are reasons to believe he could come in and have a huge year as a senior. With Taylor gone, Sutton may step into the other defensive end spot across from Clowney and get more snaps. Sutton plays with a ton of energy and a high activity level but missed a number of opportunities to make plays last year because he was simply too high and could not break down and make plays or he would overrun plays as a result of playing so tall. His explosion off the ball, his athleticism, and his energy level are going to make him an intriguing prospect and he enters the season as a day three prospect but has a chance to really up his stock if he can improve his technique and build upon the success he had last year.
Vitals & Build
Sutton is listed at 6’5” 263lbs by South Carolina, which would be up 15 pounds from his listed weight as a junior. He has a great combination of length and athleticism and while he certainly needed to add weight, his explosion and speed are remarkable. If he can maintain those qualities with more weight and strength, it could make a substantial difference. Although he was playing as depth, he showed a terrific motor and always played with a high energy level, so if he has a larger role this year, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that same level with more snaps. Based on how he looked last year, Sutton has a significant amount of physical potential going forward and what type of weight he was able to put on will be a key this season.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Sutton’s snap anticipation is good for the most part, but there are times when he will be half a beat late to get off the ball. When he fires off immediately, he is able to get an advantage attacking up the field.
Sutton’s first step is a mixed bag. He is explosive off the snap and his first step covers ground and allows him to do what he is always looking to do, which is attacking up the field. The problem is that his first step also has him stand almost straight up as well, so he shows an impressive ability to generate power off the ball, but while he does cover ground, so much of it is going up as opposed to going forward. Not only is he giving up leverage which really hurts his ability to play with power, but he is giving the opponent a huge target to hit because of his height. If Sutton can refocus that step and that energy so it is all going forward and he is able to stay low out of his stance, he could be far more dangerous.
Whether he is lining at defensive end or defensive tackle, Sutton tends to always want to attack the outside shoulder of whomever he is up against. Despite the fact he is a little predictable in that respect, Sutton is so active with his hands and has the agility to shake opponents, he puts doubt in their minds and is still able to get pressure from the outside.
Sutton shows power at times but is unable to show it consistently because he ends up playing so tall. Speed, agility, and activity are often able to make opposing offensive linemen nervous enough where they are not inclined to attack forward and engage in pass protection. As a result, he maintains space and is able to keep using his quickness and speed to attack and try to find holes for the opponent.
Sutton likes to use a swim move as a natural extension of playing so tall, but will use a rip move and occasionally flashes a decent spin move. It still needs further refinement but it could develop into something he can really use as a move he can use to mix up how he attacks opponents. Hopefully with more strength as well as consistently better leverage, Sutton will be able to take more advantage of his power and show a worthwhile bull rush that also makes him more inclined to attack to the inside.
To this point, Sutton’s approach to playing the running game is exactly like his approach to the passing game. Sutton is looking to get into the backfield to disrupt plays and try to get to the ball carrier. He is not overly stout at the point of attack because of his lack of leverage and opts to try to knife in and create havoc by forcing the offensive line to respond to him getting into the backfield rather than trying to hold them up and allowing teammates to make the play.
This has mixed results as there are definitely times when Sutton has been able to get into the backfield and make plays or chase them down from behind because of his speed and quickness from the edge. The problem he runs into is when he is unable to secure the play because he is too tall in the backfield and is unable to breakdown and secure the tackle. When he misses, often times he is doing so without a single blocker taken out of the play and creates a natural numbers advantage as the play goes down the field, which can create more opportunities for runners to make plays.
Going forward, if Sutton cannot improve as a run defender and do better when it comes to holding up at the point of attack, he will likely be viewed as a liability against the run and viewed as a pass rush specialist. Added weight and strength will help him be more stout and hold up better against opposing offensive linemen, but again, it all comes down to leverage.
Sutton is an extremely intriguing pass rusher and while his numbers are not overwhelming, he was able to be disruptive as part of a unit that wreaked havoc on opposing offenses. So much of the focus naturally goes to Clowney, but the entire defensive line at times was flying around with the ability to get to the quarterback.
Sutton’s athleticism and activity level jump out as he flies around on the field. He has terrific length combined with his quickness, but he does not take enough advantage of it because of his inability to stay low. Nevertheless, Sutton’s speed and quickness off the edge is impressive and he uses his agility and overall activity level to keep opponents unsure of what he was going to do. And when he is able to find a hole, he explodes through it and has incredible closing speed to track down the ball carrier.
The fact that Sutton does play so high results in missed opportunities as when he is so high, a normally fluid and impressive athlete handles like a rusty shopping cart and has trouble breaking down to make tackles right next to him. He has also been victimized multiple times by quarterbacks simply ducking under his tackle attempts that end up with him flying right by the play. The result is that a quarterback is better off going at Sutton and making him miss in close quarters rather than trying to get away from him, because he will chase them down. If he can play lower and break down when he gets into the backfield, he will make those plays and his impact on the game and the stat sheet will go up significantly.
Sutton has experience attacking from end, tackle, and outside linebacker with success as a rusher on both sides of the line as well as being used on stunts, so he will have a substantial amount of experience as a rusher from different angles. There is significant potential for Sutton to really breakout in this area of his game if he can play lower and take more advantage of his strength, but he is still a weapon and can be a dynamic presence in the Gamecock defense.
Although it does not happen often, when Sutton plays the Leo role in the Gamecocks defense, he does have experience dropping into coverage; almost exclusively zone. Sutton’s natural athleticism really shows through and he can get into his drops extremely quickly. He has not been tested too much in terms of his coverage, but he is such a natural athlete that he shows an intriguing amount of ability in this area. Sutton is extremely light on his feet and the small amount of experience he has in this role does open the door for him to be able to contribute in that role in the NFL.
Sutton’s best fit is as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense that comes in to get after the passer in obvious passing situations. He has shown flashes that he can be extremely effective in this area if he can make some adjustments with his leverage and staying low. He can rush the passer from either side and looks like a talented rotational end option at this point.
With that said, Sutton could get a look at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or as a Leo backer in the schemes that utilize that position. Because of his natural athleticism and speed at the position as well as the natural ability he demonstrates when dropping into coverage, he could get some attention in that spot.
|Thu, Aug. 29th||vs. North Carolina|
|Sat, Sept 7th||at Georgia|
|Sat Sept. 14th||vs. Vanderbilt|
|Sat, Sept. 28th||at UCF|
|Sat.,Oct. 5th||vs. Kentucky|
|Sat., Oct. 12th||at Arkansas|
|Sat, Oct. 19th||at Tennessee|
|Sat, Oct. 26th||at Missouri|
|Sat, Nov. 2nd||vs. Mississippi State|
|Sat, Nov. 16th||vs. Florida|
|Sat, Nov. 23rd||vs. Coastal Carolina|
|Sat, Nov. 30th||vs. Clemson|
South Carolina was able to not only upset Georgia but pound them into the ground in large part because of how they were able to get pressure on Aaron Murray. It stands to reason that will be a key this year as well in addition to trying to stop their running game on the road in Athens. The game against Tennessee in Knoxville will be a great test for Sutton. Antonio Richardson and JuWuan James are both talented offensive tackles but the entire Volunteer offensive line is talented, so Sutton will have his work cut out for him. The regular season finale against Clemson is not only the last for Sutton in Charleston, but also a game that could allow him to show off his entire repertoire of skills. Between Tajh Boyd as a dual threat quarterback and their high tempo offense, Sutton could be a factor rushing the passer, stopping the run, and dropping into coverage.
Sutton’s game could end up being similar to Jeremy Mincey of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mincey entered the league out of Florida as a day three draft pick by the New England Patriots and while it has taken him a few years to really get his footing, he has found himself a nice role as a pass rusher in Jacksonville. While neither of these guys may end up as superstars, the NFL can never have enough pass rushers and if Sutton can continue his improvement, he could end up as a much better pro than collegiate player.
At this point, Sutton looks like a pass rush specialist with some potential going forward. He has been able to have an impact getting after the quarterback, but with some adjustments in his technique, Sutton could really take off in his final year. If he improves his technique and becomes more productive getting after the passer, his stock will go up, but he could also help himself by being a better run defender. There is significant potential with Sutton, so it will be interesting to see how he performs this season, but South Carolina should have two defensive ends drafted in April.