Will Sutton is one of the most controversial NFL Draft prospects in the country right now because there is such a wide range of opinions on how good he can be. There are some who have suggested he is a first round pick and would take him as early as the top 10 while others have suggested he is simply too small to be a good player in the NFL and should go closer to the third round.
Sutton was as productive a defensive player as there was in college football last year for Arizona State and as good as he was, he had opportunities he missed. He just dominated games from start to finish and never gave opponents a break. With a combination of quickness, tremendous hand use and leverage, he made people forget about his lack of size and just left them in awe of what he could do to opposing offenses.
When projecting to the NFL, the question of his size comes up and that pressure evidently got to Sutton as illustrated by the substantial weight gain. Sutton was not blessed with the genetic gifts that would naturally make him a great player in the NFL but his hard work, determination and pure will would. Giving into the pressure to gain the weight has compromised some of what has made him so special and while teams will have to make the decision of how much they will weigh this year versus last year in terms of his play remains to be seen. Sutton is a player who will likely have the opportunity to play in a postseason All-Star game like the Senior Bowl and it will be interesting to see if he decides to try to lose some or all of the weight he has put on before going down to Mobile or the combine and showing off his talents. Despite everything, it is hard to imagine Sutton would go any lower than the top 100 and he still might work his way into the top 75 because of his overwhelming ability.
Vitals & Build
Sutton is listed at 6’1” 305lbs which is up significantly from last year and it shows. Last season, Sutton was listed at around 270lbs depending on where a person looked and the extra weight has really worked to slow him down as a player. 35lbs or whatever the true number is was never realistic and was always going to be problematic. It is virtually impossible to make the proper adjustment to that much change in one’s body in that short of a time. He has never had a great looking body but was just an incredible athlete when he was lighter.
In an attempt to get bigger and therefore look more attractive as a prospect, Sutton decided to load up on weight, but in doing so, took away from some of what made him special, which was his explosiveness and quickness. Sutton still has the motor that never quits and can still make plays but he is just not as effective. He needs to drop the weight, at least some of it, and find a happy medium where he can play like he did when he was at or near 270lbs but not quite that small. And if he had to play at 270lbs, it would not be ideal but it would not stop him from being a great player necessarily.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Sutton reacts incredibly well to when the offense snaps the enabling him to get a jump on the guy he is facing off against. This is not something he does occasionally, but he does it consistently as he has such an impressive motor, he is coming on every play.
His first step is pretty average; not great but it is consistent and when combined with his ability to anticipate the snap, it makes him look that much faster than he actually is and it keeps opponents off balance against him. He is not doing anything extraordinary in how he does it. He just makes a typical step up the field but he does it consistently.
Sutton’s ability to shed blocks is in his ability to avoid being blocked in the first place. Sutton displays tremendous hand use to keep opponents from being able to get into his body and block him in the first place. Opposing linemen are unable to get a hand on him cleanly often, so he keeps them out of his body and gives himself enough space to continue moving with speed towards his target. When he does get blocked, he can get engulfed and beaten or if opponents are able to turn him, they are able to get him on the ground without too much trouble. Incidentally, getting Sutton on the ground and laying on him is really the only way to stop him as even when he is blocked; he keeps working to try to get to the play to the whistle.
Sutton’s quickness and ability to penetrate into the backfield enables him to disrupt running plays with regularity and he has the tackles for loss to prove it. He does a fantastic job with his pad level and gets every bit of power out of his strength because of quality technique both in terms of leverage and taking full advantage of his strength. Because he stays unblocked for the most part because of his tremendous ability to hand fight, he is able to continue working towards the ball carrier and if he is in range, he can wrap them up and make the play.
Sutton has a bad habit of diving and lunging at ball carriers especially from behind and it results in some ugly missed tackles that are inexcusable and unnecessary. Had he just kept running, he would have tracked down the play and made a good tackle. For the incredible amount of plays Sutton has made, it is remarkable how many more he still could have made.
When it comes to going after the passer, Sutton does several things well. First, he varies up his attack depending on where he is lined up on a given play. For example, if he lines up as at the 3-technique, he will shoot the gap, slant inside, slant outside, or just go straight at the either the guard or tackle. As a result, the offensive line is never sure what to expect from Sutton and they are kept off balance. In addition, his hand use, pad level, and relentless effort make him difficult to block. He just keeps working and ends up with a full head of steam aimed at the quarterback and often times gets there with a full head of steam to deliver a powerful blow.
As a result of getting that full head of steam, quarterbacks are able to side step the rush and watch as he flies past them on the rush like a matador dodging a bull. Going into the quarterback like a bull has a devastating effect but if he would break down and flatten out to the quarterback and secured the play, he would have had even more than the 12 sacks he got his junior year.
Sutton has shown remarkable impact in this area and if his size does not hold him back, his relentless style could result in consistent pressure on the quarterback with the opportunity to pile up numbers. He ability to be disruptive seemingly nonstop forces teams to slant their protection to try and stop him creating favorable match ups for his teammates and there are numerous examples where his near misses result in big plays for fellow defenders.
Sutton’s best fit is as a 3-tech defensive tackle. It all comes down to how well Sutton can avoid being blocked and stay behind his pads so that opponents cannot drive him off the ball. If he can succeed, he can shoot the gaps on run downs to disrupt plays and wreak havoc on passing downs.
Sutton could get looks as a 5-tech defensive end or power end in a few schemes, but those teams would not put a priority on length for the position and they would move him inside on passing downs to use him as a rush tackle. Most teams put a larger premium on length to play on the outside like that, but a few will overlook it for pure production.
Sutton’s play style is reminiscent of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Sapp was much bigger and fit the mold of what the NFL is looking for in defensive tackles, but in terms of how they both operate and how they are effective with incredibly active hands, quickness, and being able to just keep coming, they have a great deal in common. To borrow a phrase from Sapp, Sutton is a bowling ball of butcher knives. He does all of this in a frumpy looking body that is reminiscent of Jerel Worthy, the former Michigan State Spartan and current Packer, who was also a great player in college. The worst case scenario for Sutton could be as a player like Mike Daniels, who also plays for the Packers but came into the league undersized and predominately as a pass rusher and is developing in their system.
What makes Sutton special is undeniable. He might be small but he will not be the first or last that could succeed despite being undersized. His explosion, quickness, hand usage and pad level even if he is short make him an incredible player. The lack of size is also undeniable. He is small and if opponents can get into his pads, they can drive him back off of the ball. Sutton is not going to fit every scheme and he could slip because there are teams who value measurables more than tape or at least enough where they would pass on Sutton for others. Sutton is not a bad player by any stretch at his current size, but he is not the special player he was and scouts and onlookers may have to wait until the postseason to see that Will Sutton again. Sutton may not be a first round pick but he could still end up going in the second round and still be a great player in the NFL.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com