2021 Offseason Questions: Is Sutton’s Skillset Sufficiently Suited For Slot?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: Is Cameron Sutton’s skillset sufficiently suited for being the Steelers’ slot defender?

The Steelers are weathering the loss of some half a dozen starters from last season, including multiple spots in the secondary. One might argue that the slot defender position holds the most questions with regards to skillsets.

The team has had Mike Hilton in the slot over the course of the past four years, a player who marries smarts with strength and versatility, along with aggressiveness, which made him an ideal candidate to play there.

At it stands, Cameron Sutton is likely to be the Steelers’ primary slot defender when they move to the nickel or dime defenses, if James Pierre wins the nickel role. None of the other top five defensive backs have that experience.

But does it fit his skill set? Is it something he can do well for 17 games? Coverage is his strength, but he is not an overly physically aggressive defensive back. There will surely be some drop-off in the run defense and the pass rush going from Sutton to Hilton.

I think this has been generally accepted, but how much of an issue can it be? The slot defender is a key box defender in the run defense who has to be willing to play like a linebacker at times. Sutton has started in the slot before, and generally held up overall. But there are legitimate questions to ask about how a full season with him instead of Hilton there will affect the defense as a whole.

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