After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Preseason Notes Archives on Quarterbacks
Whenever the term “pass rusher” is mentioned, football instinct tends to lead towards players who line up on the edge. These sack artists who dip around the corner or generate pressures with speed generate plenty of attention. Offensive tackles and quarterbacks are getting smarter in their defense, with blockers using the pass rushers’ momentum to ride them around the edge. Stepping up in the pocket has become a baseline trait for success in the NFL.
With the growing implementation of three and five step drops in order to get playmakers into open space, the importance of interior pass rushers is greater than ever. At least it should be. As previously stated, avoiding edge rusher by stepping up is much more achievable compared to the disruption caused by interior pressure. Edge rushers have started to loop back inside more often, but any defensive tackle (or end in a three man front asked to attack the guard) can make a tremendous impact by specializing in disrupting the pocket.
Enter Arizona State’s Will Sutton. That is not to say Sutton isn’t a three down player, but he will make his mark unsettling the offense’s plans. Lining up as a 3 technique defensive tackle in a base four man front, Sutton displays the versatility to win from a 1 technique alignment in nickel situations and as an end in a three man front on occasion.
Along with that alignment flexibility, Sutton closes the pocket and/or creates separation in a variety of ways. He will be classified as a speed rusher, and although Sutton does possess those traits, he is also a technician who incorporates power and leverage. This part of his game relies on gaining the advantage on first contact. If the defensive tackle forces his opponent off balance, he continues to keep them on skates before shedding at the quarterback’s depth. Sure, Sutton lacks ideal size, but that does not mean he is strictly a speed rusher.
With that said, quickness is a large part of Sutton’s game. The Sun Devil can be seen firing off the line versus the run and the pass, splitting gaps and beating reach blocks. He isn’t always the first one off the snap, but Sutton’s initial forward lean and momentum is excellent. Keeping his head up when firing past that initial line helps acquire backfield vision and balance.
Sutton displays a good understanding of balance, not only his own but his opponent’s. Utilizing a swim move or slap and side step, Sutton creates space in short areas thanks to active hands. This is followed up by great closing speed, which helps Sutton finish consistently. Even after finding open space, many rushers fail due to poor change or direction or anticipation. Sutton possesses both of these traits, showing the ability to plant and alter his own momentum in conjunction with the quarterback’s or ball carrier’s short area shiftiness. He is not a perfect tackler, and part of that might be due to the lack of comparable strength, but it is not a glaring negative.
Many will point to Sutton’s run defense as that glaring negative. I am not saying he is Josh Chapman, a stalwart fire hydrant who clogs the middle, but Sutton is at least adequate at holding the point of attack. There are instances when Sutton loses ground, mainly when he fails to gain the leverage advantage off the snap, but he is not overmatched. In fact, I have seen him handle a double team on multiple occasions. In terms of face up, power running schemes, Sutton’s success relies on the leverage battle.
I am very confident in Sutton’s success against slant or zone blocking. His tendency to split gaps and get upfield has already been mentioned, but there are some savvy qualities to Sutton’s game. When facing an offensive lineman hoping to reach block and seal a lane, Sutton mirrors the long lateral step and dips to anchor in the intended alley. That kind of flexibility from an interior defensive lineman is tough to find, and it serves Sutton well. There are instances where he goes to the ground when his center of gravity if lost, but it did not occur at a high rate.
Where He Wins
Sutton takes advantage of space. Whether it be shooting past reach blocks in the sliver of time afforded to him thanks to an animated first step and forward lean, or hand use and quick feet to generate that separation on his own, Sutton finishes with closing speed. His flexibility to bend and gain positive positioning is tough to find.
Areas of Improvement
If Sutton’s initial momentum is stopped, and the offensive lineman is able to gain a powerful grip on the defensive tackle in tight spaces, he struggles to shed and restart. I mentioned his adequate anchor, but Sutton has difficulties shedding to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. He also seemed to have less explosiveness after injuring his right knee.