Going into this draft season, the community seemed split over a plethora of topics, but none gaudier than that of the top receivers in this year’s class. Preceding any work I produced this season, I watched some prospects and outlined my thoughts on some of the bigger names. When it comes to the wide receivers, the two standouts were Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton.
As this exciting college football season proceeded, one of these wide receivers took off, cementing himself as a top prospect in this class, and the other divulged himself as a mid-tier prospect with a lot to improve upon before he becomes a sufficient target in the NFL. Unfortunately for many casual draft fans, both have been receiving a ton of first round hype as of late, a dangerous product. Hype can influence what we feel about a prospect, and in the case of Courtland Sutton, many overrate him.
Let me be clear, this preseason, Courtland Sutton was my second ranked wideout, behind Ridley. In my defense, there is a lot to like about him. The Southern Methodist weapon possesses a large frame that draws comparisons of elite red zone threats like Mike Evans and Dez Bryant. His body control is impressive and already at an NFL level. This ability often comes from fluid, smooth athletes, but we shall get into this later.
Similar to multitudinous big-bodied receivers across the league, their speed is not what sets them apart. Though he is not a combine star, speculatively, many feel his speed is adequate, and that he is still a mismatch against practically any corner. To add, another thing Sutton’s height assists him with is the jump ball. His jump ball ability is up there with the best of them, a lucrative trait to find in a wideout. Though his speed is not necessarily top of his class, the SMU product seemingly always succeeds on the deep ball, helping his lackluster quarterback out.
Moreover, Sutton’s skills or projectability may be questioned throughout the draft process, but one trait will not be; his competitive toughness, a quality NFL teams eat up. If a creative offensive coordinator somehow manages to get his hands on Sutton, the rest of the league will be put on the lookout. So, with all this upside, where does Sutton fall short?
After gathering a more in-depth look at Courtland Sutton, his injurious flaws begin to exemplify themselves. Obviously, he is no perfect prospect, but some red flags dig deeper than a slight chink in a prospect’s armor. The main concern is that he is stiff and does not have the hips or fluidity that is obligatory for the next level.
At the catch point, he manipulates his body proficiently, but elsewhere, it seems to be a major drawback. Besides an adequate dose of straight line speed, Sutton does not possess the athleticism one would want from their supposed star wide receiver. His agility, quickness, and acceleration are all lacking and will hurt him when he faces NFL cornerbacks who have mastered their craft.
Sutton’s play strength, how strong he is in traffic and breaking tackles or other interactions with defenders, is inconsistent and not ideal for a larger target. If he can not play his role right, coaches on both sides of the ball will notice.
Potentially paramount, all of these factor into the notion that his route running just is not good. Sutton does not make sharp cuts, execute desirable double moves, or smoothly change direction, a detriment to his value. This will almost render him useless outside of the red zone unless it is improved upon.
Furthermore, when getting a quick glance at Sutton, only the positives jump out. He has the ability to dominate the opposing defensive backs and can make the highlight play seem oh-so-easy, but there are plenty of reasons why you can not scout highlights. The lack of in-depth analysis creates a tumultuous effect that can blind some. Now, this is not a shot at Sutton supporters, as there is certainly a lot to like, but almost anyone that watches simply a glimpse of Sutton is prone to falling in love with his play.
The “truther” conflict surrounding the college phenom causes him to be a controversial prospect, a phrase used to describe almost any athlete during this process. However, controversy means nothing from us lowly draftniks who do not make actual decisions regarding this subject. If the NFL likes him, he will find his way into the first round, which his stock currently resides.
In Breaking Football’s own Jonathan Valencia’s mock draft, he has Courtland Sutton falling to twenty two, the Ravens’ selection. Another non-believer in Sutton, he points out the difficulty in denying his high stock. The love is definitely there for Courtland Sutton, but whether it is warranted is what is being put under the microscope.
Overall, Courtland Sutton appears to be a mid-tier wide receiver prospect, with about ten targets above him. Certainly, he has fallen off Alabama’s Calvin Ridley’s tail for the consensus WR1 position, even if others are threatening.
As it currently stands, Sutton is a Day 2 prospect with a ton of room to grow. His ceiling is tempting, with the potential to become Bryant-like in the NFL. On the contrary, his floor is exceedingly low with the gravity of his limitations being so extortionate. His stock has dropped since the season began, but only from top ten speculations to the latter half of Day 1. Other wide receiver prospects have also garnered flack, such as James Washington or Christian Kirk. This could be attributed to the rise of other talented targets such as Michael Gallup, Anthony Miller, or Richie James. It is yet to be known what the league thinks of the SMU product, but we will have to wait for the draft process to progress before we find out. However you feel about Courtland Sutton, just remember that a detailed analysis is key and that blindly putting faith into the hype is always a bad idea.