Position: Defensive tackle
College: Arizona State
Height/weight: 6’1”, 303 lbs.
As stated in the last “Draft Focus,” the current group of defensive tackles on the Cowboys’ roster simply won’t be counted on as the final solution for the front seven after a terrible 2013 campaign. We’ve taken a look at first round defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan and Aaron Donald, but haven’t delved into a later round option should the Cowboys address another need in the first round. Arizona State’s Will Sutton is a defensive tackle that will most likely be available in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Sutton comes off of back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year seasons, the first person to do that since 1992. He recorded 37 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over his final two seasons with the Sun Devils, including consensus All-American honors after his junior season. He came to Arizona State as ESPN’s no. 1 ranked high school defensive tackle in the state of California. Sutton gained 40 pounds between his junior and senior seasons, and dropped some of that weight heading into the combine.
Why he’s a good fit for the Cowboys
It’s no secret why versatile defensive tackles are a fit in Dallas. Rod Marinelli’s defense would benefit from picking up another interior lineman to play alongside Henry Melton, and even if Sutton found his niche as a rotational player, any upgrade at the position will help a defense that recorded just 34 sacks last season.
Sutton is apparently embracing versatility and using it as his selling point to NFL teams. He was quoted in an AZ Central article speaking about his variety of playing styles.
“...going from junior year to 280 to 320, knowing I can play nose, shade, five, four, three-tech, it just means I can be versatile and show I can play many positions. Wherever they want to play, that’s where I want to go and put my heart in and excel at.”
He was quoted in the same article saying that he will listen to whatever team drafts him as far as his weight goes and is willing to adjust his size for however his NFL coaches want to use him. This has to be encouraging for defensive coordinators, knowing that he is willing to listen and make his game the best it can be for his new team.
Stats vs. measurables
I’m usually a big proponent of analyzing how a player performs on the field first, and how they work out second. Yes, a fast 40 time or impressive vertical leap are great tools to have and can certainly indicate a player’s explosiveness, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is how a player’s skills translate between the goal lines. And you can’t argue with the 45.5 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks Sutton recorded in college.
He did not have an impressive combine, running only a 5.36 40-yard dash and posting 24 bench press reps. Sutton was near the bottom of the pack among defensive tackles at the combine with a pedestrian 7.93-second time in the three-cone drill, but at ASU’s Pro Day he completed it in 7.70 seconds, which would have put him in the top five DTs at the combine. So the lateral quickness is there.
My main concern with Sutton is his tendency to get tied up in blocks. In his final collegiate game, the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, Sutton was held in check. Primarily matched up with 6-foot-7 Red Raider guard Beau Carpenter, Sutton struggled to get around blocks.
One of Carpenter’s strengths is his arm length and immense stature. The average NFL offensive guard is larger than Sutton with a longer wingspan, and there are more and more that have Carpenter’s size.
So in the argument of stats vs. measurables, I maintain that performance on the field is more important -- but my concerns with Sutton are results of what he lacks in measurables. An undersized defensive tackle like Aaron Donald can overcome his lack of size with his superior explosiveness, but with Sutton, too many of the measurables stack up against him in situations against above-average sized offensive linemen.
Sutton was dominant in his junior year at ASU, but fell off a bit in his senior year, possibly due to his weight gain or drawing more double teams. Whatever the case may be, Sutton is a versatile defensive tackle who heads to the next level with flexibility and where and how he will play, and he has the ability to be a force inside. While his 40 time and bench press numbers will cause many teams to pass on Sutton, his arm length and susceptibility to being overmatched by bigger offensive linemen is cause for him to fall in the draft, in my opinion. Depending on the available pool of DTs, Sutton may be worthy of a second round pick for Dallas. If he were to fall to the third round and the Cowboys haven’t selected a defensive tackle, Sutton would be a valuable pick in that slot.