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NFL Draft 2017: Cameron Sutton’s versatility could bring great value in the middle rounds

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Breaking down Tennessee cornerback/punt returner, Cameron Sutton

TaxSlayer Bowl - Iowa v Tennessee Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Recently, we’ve been talking about Denver potentially drafting a cornerback in the early rounds of a draft stacked with secondary talent. Today I want to break down a potential end of Day 2 prospect that could bring some value at cornerback, but also contribute in the return game.

Cameron Sutton is a senior cornerback from the University of Tennessee and has doubled as a dangerous punt return man beginning with his sophomore year. In his first year as a returner with the Vols, Sutton averaged 11.3 yards per return, and broke a 76 yard return for a touchdown.

In his junior year, Sutton led the nation with 18.7 yards per punt return, and 2 touchdowns.

He received a 3rd round grade from the draft board after his junior year and decided to return for his senior season. However, he suffered a broken ankle that caused him to miss half of the season. As a result he did not have the senior year that he was hoping for production-wise. Before that injury, Sutton had started every game since his freshman year.

As a cornerback, Sutton became the first Tennessee DB to return an INT as a freshman since Eric Berry in 2007. He continued making play for the rest of his career with the Vols. As a sophomore, he led the Volunteers with 16 PBUs and had 3 INTs in their bowl game against Iowa. In his junior year, teams got wise and began throwing away from him, but he still managed to record an INT and 6 PBUs.

Cameron Sutton

Cornerback/Punt Returner, Senior — Tennessee

Height: 5'11" | Weight: 188 lbs. | Arm Length: 30" | Hands: 8 1/4"

40 Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds | Bench Press: 11 reps | Vertical: 34" | Broad Jump: 120" | 3 Cone: 6.81 seconds

His measurables look more the part of a slot corner than a pure outside guy. Sutton spoke at the combine about his ability to play all over the field, so I would look for him to be primarily a slot guy/returner in the NFL. I’m not worried about his slow 40 time because he shows good closing speed on tape, and his return ability is more predicated on shiftiness and vision, than pure speed.

Film Room and Highlights

Scouting Report

NFL.com

STRENGTHS

Man-cover corner with feet to mirror and match off line of scrimmage. Responsive to route keys from wideouts. Decent instincts looking to jump hitches and wide receiver screens. Desired fluidity of movement with ability to open and run from backpedal. Confident in coverage and rarely penalized. Good acceleration to ball raking across catch point when he gets there. High school wideout with soft hands and smart angles to the ball. Finished career with 37 passes defensed including seven interceptions. Allowed just three touchdowns during career. Praised by coaches for competitive character and selfless, team-first attitude. Worked his tail off to return to field after fracturing ankle in mid-September. Punt-return talent; career average of 14.9 yards with three touchdowns.

WEAKNESSES

Frame needs more muscle. Too passive in press coverage, failing to land solid hands that slow opponent or redirect their routes. Can be bodied around by big wideouts. Plays a little tall in his backpedal. Feet lack some twitch when asked to plant and explode forward from pedal. Has issues with back to the quarterback; late to turn and find the ball, allowing catches over his head. Could struggle to carry long speed down the field. Operates with short arms and small hands. Unreliable in run support with too many side-swipe, grab-and-drag attempts. Missed six games with fractured ankle early in senior season.

NFL COMPARISON

B.W. Webb

BOTTOM LINE

Four-year starter with the fluidity to handle man coverage on the outside, but lacking desired physicality and run-support traits that zone teams covet. Sutton flashed outstanding ball production his first two seasons but saw his per-game production drop since. Could be forced inside due to a lack of size on next level. Punt-return ability could be what gets him on the field first.

CBS Sports

One of the primary knocks on Sutton is that he lacks ideal size at a shade over 5-11 and 186 pounds with relatively thin limbs. Sutton's body control and awareness help him overcome his frame while in coverage but too he seems content with letting teammates do the dirty work in run support. Sutton is more finesse than force as a tackler, typically wrapping up ball-carriers and dragging them to the ground. He'll occasionally duck his head and lead with his shoulder, however, resulting in getting dragged himself, at times, and some powerful runners breaking his tackles completely.

While scouts would like to see Sutton show a little more fire as a tackler, the light feet, awareness and soft hands necessary to be a force in coverage (and earn a high draft selection) are all there. Further, his leadership and work ethic have been lauded by Tennessee's coaches, including by new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Last year Sutton asked to switch jersey numbers (swapping No. 23 for No. 7) to honor popular teammate Rashaan Gaulden, who suffered a fractured foot in fall camp and missed the entire season. With Gauden back healthy, Sutton has switched back to No. 23 for the 2016 season.

Sutton is a confident, fluid athlete at his best in man coverage. He throws up a hand into the face of receivers when in press, showing the strength with his initial jam to hinder receivers off the line, as well as the loose hips to turn and run with them. Sutton's experience shows in his route anticipation. He changes direction easily and locates the football quickly, showing excellent hand-eye coordination to rip at the ball when it arrives. Sutton offers terrific initial quickness, helping him break on underneath routes and slip past would-be tacklers when he gets the ball in his hands. Sutton's ball-skills are evident in his comfort as a returner, where he shows the soft hands to pluck outside of his frame as well as the savvy to wrap both arms around the ball while in traffic.

My Take

I specifically asked to do this breakdown because I really like this kid. I think he is one of the more under rated prospects and could wind up being very good, in a draft class with a lot of play makers at DB. I like his penchant for getting his hands on the ball with interceptions or even just PBUs, and he showed solid coverage from the tape I watched.

What really intrigues me about him is his return ability. If Denver drafts a corner, they aren’t looking for immediate contributions outside of depth and special teams so Sutton’s return ability gets him on the field immediately, fills a needs for Denver, and gives him a year to contribute but still learn and grow into a pro.

I would be very happy with a guy like Sutton in the late 3rd round, and think he will end up being a steal for whoever lands him.

What do you think, Broncos Country? The last couple Vols the Broncos have had worked out pretty well.