When it comes to scouting defensive tackles for the 2014 NFL Draft, it is a case of trying not to do too much comparison and instead just looking at the individual skill set of the player and where they may fit. Prospects come in all shapes and sizes, and that holds so true for Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. Let’s take a look at Sutton as we head into the season.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Sutton’s size is his major question. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, and that might be generous. He plays low and has a squatty frame and at times looks even shorter on the field. Sutton’s weight is also a bit of a mystery. Sutton played at something around 285 pounds in 2012 and slightly less than that in 2011. Now coming into this season, it’s reported that Sutton is weighing in at around 305 pounds, but that it’s quality weight. While I understand that from an NFL perspective Sutton playing at 305 pounds answers some questions about what positions he can play, the question will be: how much will an additional 20 pounds, even quality ones, impact his game?
Sutton’s interior game is predicated on quickness, anticipation and burst. Most of his best plays come off a great jump at the snap and a very nice inside swim move. As I reviewed Sutton in 2012, so many times at the snap he would give a little dip outside on the guard, extend his arms and change direction, sliding between the guard and center before they realize he is there.
Sutton is much more effective playing gaps rather than man-up, where he can get overpowered at times. I’d have liked to see him do a better job re-directing linemen and disengaging, but he was often a step late, letting the play get by him. Some of this was a weight issue, as he often gives up 20-plus pounds to the lineman he is lined up across from.
Another area of Sutton’s game I really like is his instincts and finishing ability. He does a nice job breaking down the play, and he rarely gives up. Many of his tackles for loss and sacks came on broken plays where he simply refused to give up on the play and finally closed on the ball carrier. Sutton is also a very sound tackler, who tackles through the player and uses his weight and leverage well.
The comparison that gets tossed around a lot when discussing Sutton is defensive tackle Geno Atkins. I can see it to a degree, however, we don’t know if Sutton can be as explosive or dynamic at 305 pounds as he was at something I suspect was closer to 275 pounds rather than 285 pounds. He doesn’t have a huge repertoire of pass rush moves, but what he has he uses well. Playing bigger could allow him to add in a bull rush that would allow him to be more of a two-gap defender. This opens doors for him in the NFL as well.
However, the downside is Sutton comes in bigger and loses a half step. What do NFL teams do with him? Is a 305-pound Sutton suddenly a 3-4 NT prospect, or does he go the way of some other undersized (height) tackles who aren’t strong enough at the point of attack? Depth charts have become antiquated in today’s NFL. Sutton and his physical limitations might mean he’s never a DT1. But in an NFL that is seeing more and more zone read types of offenses, Sutton’s skills in sub packages will be invaluable. I’d rather have a dynamic and explosive Sutton at 280 pounds who I can plug in next to a big nose tackle in the A gap as an sort of interior two-technique tackle and let him go wild. Some teams won’t want Sutton at all because he won’t fit what they want to do, but come next April, I expect some team to take a shot on him in the first round.