The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two draft picks made their biggest impact today. T.J. Watt recorded another sack and JuJu Smith-Schuster was amazing, as has become the routine. But when asked about this rookie class, Mike Tomlin made special mention of the team’s third round pick, Cam Sutton.
“Can’t say enough about Cam Sutton,” Tomlin told reporters after the game. “A guy who missed a lot of time. Training camp, preseason, and so forth, first half of the season. He’s come on and provided some quality plays for us as well. The rookie class largely, not only today, but throughout the season, have been positive contributors to our efforts.”
It’s unclear how much action Sutton saw in today’s finale. He entered the game early in what appeared to be a dime package, but I didn’t seem him for the remainder of the contest. William Gay spent most of it in his usual dime spot with an up-and-down day. He gave up a touchdown but forced a crucial fumble on a long screen pass late in the game.
Sutton started one game this season, filling in against the New England Patriots when Joe Haden and Coty Sensabaugh were injured. He held his own, not often targeted, and didn’t make any of the big mistakes that have plagued this secondary so often in 2017.
As Tomlin said, it all happened in a season that looked lost. Sutton injured his hamstring early in camp, re-injured it in the preseason, and was put on IR for the first eight weeks because of it. Most rookie corners aren’t getting back on that moving train. Sutton did, thanks to his football IQ, earning the coaching staff’s trust pretty much immediately.
His role going forward this year is unclear though seeing more work from him out of dime packages would be a good place to start and probably his only chance of getting more playtime, barring injury. The offseason will make for an interesting one. Haden has been valuable but will come with an equally high price tag. Will the Steelers bite the bullet? Can they even afford it? Or will they move on from Haden and insert Sutton into the lineup, which was probably always the plan from the moment he was drafted, months before the Browns tossed Haden to the curb.
What we do know is the Steelers’ defense has gone under major transformation in multiple ways. One of those is how quickly rookies see the field. Under the old model, rookie meant redshirt. Heck, Dick LeBeau wouldn’t even play Stephon Tuitt over Cam Thomas until the final quarter of his rookie season. Now, it’s a race to get them on the field.
It’s proved to be the right idea. Watt has been excellent and Sutton has shown flashes, at least, enough of an impression to earn a special shoutout from his head coach.