Cameron Sutton had never entered a season holding a regular role within the defense over the course of the first four years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At least, not if you don’t include his role as a dime back, which typically accounted for 15-20 snaps per game.
After signing a two-year, $9 million contract to stay with the team, it would probably take an upset if he is not a full-time, every-down starter in 2021. This comes following the free agency departure of slot defender Mike Hilton and the release of right outside starter Steven Nelson.
“No question. I’m coming for it all. I am definitely coming for it all”, he told Teresa Varley for an article posted on the team’s website on Friday, regarding a push for a starting job. “That is just the competitive edge in me. An opportunity presented itself, and I am embracing that and ready to step into that role and give everything I can and will to help this organization. I just want to keep this thing rolling”.
Sutton has made nine starts over the course of his career, seven of which came just last season. Of those nine starts, five have come at an outside cornerback role. He started in place of Nelson for one game last season, and two for Joe Haden, including the postseason, while the latter dealt with Covid-19.
Originally drafted out of Tennessee in 2017 in the third round, he has grown steadily each season since being here, originally being overshadowed by his surrounding draft classmates—T.J. Watt in the first round, JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second, and James Conner as a compensatory third. All of them went to the Pro Bowl in 2018.
While the 2020 season marked greater opportunities for Sutton—he also started four games in the slot while Hilton missed time due to injury, and ultimately logged more than 500 defensive snaps, nearly half of his career defensive playing time—those opportunities coincided with maturity and progress.
Going from dime back to outside starter is a big jump, but the spot starts that he has had should be of significant aid. There is nothing that he would have to do or be asked to do that he hasn’t done numerous times already.
Interestingly, should he be the starter, he will be replacing a player who was drafted just four picks after him. The Steelers selected Sutton 94th overall, while the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Nelson 98th overall. Unlike Sutton, however, Nelson became a starter by year two.
And then, of course, Pittsburgh went out and signed Nelson to start in 2019, though in hindsight you certainly can’t blame them. He had an excellent first year in Pittsburgh and continued his above-the-line play last season. But salary cap necessities and Sutton’s advancement led to his release, and now Sutton has the opportunity to make the most of the turn of events.