Will Sutton looked like a future star immediately upon arrival in the Valley of the Sun, taking snaps in 12 games (with two starts) as a true freshman in 2009, recording 17 tackles (3 TFLs), a sack and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, we was unable to build on this, as he declared academically ineligible for the 2010 campaign. In 2011, he returned to the field, appearing in all 13 games (starting twelve), logging 33 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks. In 2012, he exploded, totaling 64 tackles (with a staggering 23.5 for loss), 13 sacks, five passes batted down, and three forced fumbles. Coming into the 2013 season as the top-ranked DT in the country, Sutton started all 14 games, recording 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, enough to be awarded a second consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year nod.
Although undersized (until 2013, he was listed at 267 pounds), Sutton proved to be surprisingly stout. Curiously, then, his drop-off in 2013 was largely the result of his coaches asking him to play at a heavier weight. He gained as many as 40 pounds, most of it "bad weight," and lost the traits - principally the cat-like quickness - that had made him successful. However, reports are that Sutton has lost a lot of the bad weight, and is now hovering at about 295. Thus, when we look at his tape, it's important to watch the 2012 version of Sutton, as he's the one we're most likely to see on Sundays in the Fall. Thankfully, Team Awesome over at Draft Breakdown have 14 of Sutton's games cut up and ready for your perusal. Six of them are from 2012; check out the devastation he wreaked against my Cal Bears, as well as his fine work in a tilt at USC.
As might be expected, our panelists are a bit divided on Sutton - or, perhaps, hover between the 2012 and 2013 models. Let's say how they negotiate his different seasons...
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com): 7th-ranked DT; 63rd overall
Strengths: Has a short, compact build that gives him a natural leverage advantage over most NFL offensive linemen. Times the snap well, flashing an explosive burst to slip through gaps. Possesses quick feet, balance and lateral agility to avoid cut-blocks. Accelerates very quickly to close on the ballcarrier. Possesses surprisingly strong and active hands to rip free from blocks and to rip away at the ball when he sees it exposed (three forced fumbles in 2012). Experienced at virtually every position along the defensive line. Instinctive defender who locates the ball well and hustles to get involved in the action. Peels away from blocks, spinning to rip away and pursue laterally or downfield, as needed. Good recognition of deception plays, reading and peeling off to blow up screens and draws. Showed his dedication to the program by earning the "Hard Hat" award for his work in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program in 2010 (year he missed due to academics)... Appears to be significantly heavier, stronger than his listed size by ASU (6-1, 267). Good bloodlines. Father, Mickey, played in the NFL for five years as a defensive back and punt returner with the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills.
Weaknesses: Obvious size limitations and may prove to be just a rotational defender at the next level. Short arms and can get locked out by the longer arms of offensive linemen. Possesses very good short-area quickness but reaches max speed quickly and appears to have only moderate straight-line speed for the position despite his size. Seems to tire easily. Will make a big play and then disappear for long stretches. Only has one season of sustained success at the FBS level.
Compares To: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals -- Having increased his sack production each of his three seasons in the NFL, the 6-1, 300-pound Atkins has given hope to all undersized, quick-footed defensive tackles that they, too, can find a niche in today's pass-happy NFL.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 9th-ranked DT; 65th overall
Versus the Run: One gap up-the-field defender. Most effective when on the move and able to win with quickness. Plays with good pad level and natural leverage. Active and quick hands. However, lacks prototypical length and anchor when forced to play in a phone booth. Will be engulfed by bigger blockers or double teams when unable to win with quickness.
Pass Rush Skills: Took a step back in production in 2013. Was not as explosive with first step due to added weight. However, still fairly disruptive in this area. Comes off the ball with quality leverage and has active hands to keep blockers off of frame. Does a nice job of working the half man and shows adequate bend to finish through contact. Closing burst is good but not as quick as it was in 2012.
Quickness (hands/ feet): Shows good snap anticipation. However, played heavy this year and took a step back in terms of agility and overall quickness which was the strength of his game in 2012. Quick and active hands and a quality hand fighter.
Toughness/ Motor: Plays with an edge and not afraid to mix it up. Extremely active when motor is running hot. However, endurance dropped a few notches due to added weight. Was unable to sustain high level of play at 315 pounds as he showed at roughly 295 pounds in 2012. Pad level also suffered when he tired.
Intangibles: Comes from stable two parent home. Father Mickey was a defensive back and punt returner in the NFL during the late-1980s and early '90s. Ruled academically ineligible for the entire 2010 season. Scouts have concerns about maturity and ability to take hard coaching. A bit selfish and not always a team first guy. Weight gain from junior to senior year brings up concerns about work ethic and dedication.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 7th-ranked DT; 65th overall
Three year starter. A quick but overweight tackle with good agility, body control and balance. He can break into the backfield with a powerful bull rush and make plays in tight spaces. Tough to block with his quick feet on an inside charge. His lateral quickness shows up in stunts, slant moves, and down the line pursuit. Quick to disengage blocker and find the ball. Plays low and with leverage. Reads the play quickly. Tackles with an explosive force. Throws his body at the ball carrier. Shows a burst after initial contact. Uses his hands and feet well to rush the passer. Finishes pursuit with effort and good chase speed. Has an intense desire to be disruptive and make a play. In short, he is active, explosive, and highly competitive. Gained weight and lost his rare explosive quickness, which is one of his strongest assets. Arms are shorter than ideal to control a blocker.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 13th-ranked DT; 157th overall
Strengths: Very good athlete. Good body control and balance. Feels blocking pressure and finds the ball quickly. Effective spin move. Shoots gaps and makes plays behind the line. Flattens down the line and can range to the sideline. Strong tackler and athletic enough to string down backs in space. Outstanding career sack production (20.5) from the interior.
Weaknesses: Short. Questionable competitiveness and desire. Motor runs hot and cold. Will disappear for stretches. Has some underachiever traits, and work ethic has a lot of area for improvement. Average strength at the point of attack. Can be turned and rooted out of the hole by the double team. Can improve hand use and develop more of a pass-rush arsenal. Poor timed speed.
Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
Bottom Line: Bulked up and added a lot of bad weight as a senior, negating his initial burst and diminishing his production, yet still showed good quickness off the ball. Played at a more natural weight and was noticeably a step quicker in 2012. Fits best as an under tackle in an even front and would be best playing close to 290 pounds. Would benefit tremendously from a disciplined nutrition regimen.
Other than Nawrocki, whose evaluation appears to lean a bit more toward Sutton circa 2013, our panelists are remarkably consistent in their appraisal of the former Sun Devil: they slot him between 63-65, at the tail end of the second round. With Sutton slimmed down to 295, and looking more like the 2012 version, who would almost certainly have been a first round pick, I'd expect him to go earlier more than I would later. So, I'll slot him in round two in my "little board."
In round two, I think Sutton is a great fallback option should a couple of higher-rated defensive tackle options - Aaron Donald and, if he's healthy, Dominique Easley - get snatched up before Dallas can grab them. In fact, I think a leaner, quicker Sutton compares very favorably to Donald. CBS's Rob Rang compares Sutton to the Bengal's Geno Atkins. If they can get even a hollow facsimile of Atkins as a fallback option, especially after drafting a player they like in the first frame? I think that's a scenario that would make Cowboys fans very happy.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Sutton, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former Sun Devil.
Tomorrow: Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley