The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Cameron Sutton’s window for gaining a regular role in the defense is closed for now.
Explanation: Sutton is one of four cornerbacks that the Steelers have drafted in the first three rounds since 2015. None of them have panned out yet, excluding the rookie Justin Layne.
It’s generally pretty hard in today’s NFL for a player who has had opportunities in the past to establish himself three or four years into his career. It’s certainly far from impossible, but it’s fair to say that some are beginning to look at Sutton as a player who will never be more than the next man up.
The 2017 third-round draft pick got some playing time last season, beginning the year as the top backup, but he lost that spot to Coty Sensabaugh through his play. He was also the third-string dimebacker. He will probably open up the season as the top backup at all three cornerback positions, but the odds of him rising above that have decreased.
Layne might still be relatively new to cornerback, but he does have a lot of talent and could potentially see the field. Likely bound for the boundary, if he does play, Steven Nelson could move outside. Like with Artie Burns, the Steelers are planning their depth chart without counting on him to play any meaningful role.
Two years into a career is far too early to write anybody off, and certainly not against an incoming third-round rookie who still has some things to learn about playing cornerback. Mike Hilton’s starting role in the slot may not be assured. The Steelers could give Sutton the opportunity this summer to compete for that job.
One need only think back to Keenan Lewis as an example of a cornerback who began to blossom in his third season. And keep in mind that Sutton missed a lot of time during his rookie year due to injury, so 2018 was his first full season on the job.