We are starting a new summer series to look at who might be the next players to take that next step up. We’ll be taking a look at those players who have been productive to this point in their careers but could be on the verge of busting out and getting more national recognition. This is a breakout candidate for the 2020 season.
When looking for players who are ready to breakout there are several factors that could point to that outcome. Sutton has reached a triad of components in his fourth season that all lead in that direction.
His play has shown a steady improvement year over year showing his comfort and growth as a player and within the defense. That step up in his game has led to more opportunities and I think there could be an even bigger increase in 2020. He will also be in the last year of his contract which, for some players, is a strong motivating factor to help elevate their game.
To This Point
The 2017 3rd round pick may have underachieved depending on your point of view. Looking over his career numbers the totality is unimpressive. The first glaring number that stands out is one start in three years coming against Kansas City in 2018. Up until 2019 the cornerback position wasn’t particularly strong with Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns starting opposite Joe Haden in 2018.
Statistically nothing stands out with two interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble and 43 total tackles. That would be a solid season. However there were areas of improvement in his statistics and with his positional flexibility.
He has a small uptick in defensive snaps going from 240 in 2018 to 265 in 2019. He saw more work in nickel and dime coverages as a versatile defender capable of aligning outside, in the slot or as a deep safety.
His advanced defensive statistics saw a significant improvement. He was targeted slightly less in 2019 (from 29 in 2018 to 25) but allowed 6 fewer completions lowering his completion percentage from 69% to 56%. His yardage allowed decreased by 56% from 297 to 132 yards. His yards per completion went down 37% from 14.9 to 9.4 while his QB rating when targeted dropped from 122.3 to 54.1.
His passes defensed have increased from 1 to 3 to 5. Two of those pass breakups last year were in the end zone helping him improve to zero touchdowns in 2019 after allowing 3 in 2018.
Vs Baltimore, he’s lined up in the slot over Marquise Brown (15) he’s balanced and shows good COD and acceleration to undercut the route to break up the pass.
At Los Angeles Chargers, he’s outside on the bottom of the screen on Mike Williams (81). Again he’s balanced and as soon as the WR makes his cut, Sutton turns his head to the QB while keeping contact with the WR allowing for the easy play.
What can happen?
If there were an injury to one of the corners, Sutton would be the choice to take their place. Barring an injury he won’t be starting this year but his play last year allows the defense to use him in a variety of ways in nickel and dime situations. In most nickel situations especially against running teams Mike Hilton will be the choice in the slot but in passing situations Sutton should get the nod as he is better in coverage.
There is an opening at the hybrid/dimebacker spot and while Sutton won’t likely be the choice there Terrell Edwards could be. That would open a need for Sutton to play the deep safety position as well. He was used to align there last year and could see in an increase in usage there.
Against Buffalo, in this dime coverage he’ll start aligned as the deep single high safety. At the snap Edmunds and Haden drop into a Cover 2 look while Sutton comes down to play Zone in the middle of the field. I love this coverage. Of the deep 7 only Steven Nelson stays in his original area with the others rotating to confuse the offense.
- Steady improvement year over year
- Opportunity to be used more on defense
- Versatility to play inside, outside or at safety
- Motivation of a contract season
- Coverage improvement across the board
- Primary backup at many positions (RCB, LCB, Slot , FS)
I really like the player Sutton has become and more importantly the Steelers like the player he has become. His playmaking improved across the board in coverage, tackling and with contributions on special teams (like his onside kick recovery vs the Chargers). While there isn’t a starting position available currently there should be ample opportunities to get him playing time on the defense and a doubling of stats like passed defensed and tackles as well as an increase in interceptions seem likely in an important season for him.