Glutton For Sutton?
Will Sutton is an extremely destructive defensive tackle. This is not news to anyone who has seen him play. Sutton simply makes his living by wreaking havoc in his opponent’s backfield. This past season, Sutton posted 23.5 tackles for loss to pair with 13 sacks. The “problem” with Sutton is his size. There are reports stating that Sutton has beefed up to 305 for the upcoming season, but it remains to see how truthful that is, and if the weight can be sustained throughout the season. Last year, Sutton was listed in the 265-270 pound range. I think the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, and that Sutton will check in around 6’1 and about 285 pounds at the Combine. While there have been rumblings that Sutton’s size will take him off team’s boards, it’s not something that I find myself particularly concerned with. What is of intrigue to me is whether or not Sutton’s lack of elite size is reflected in his game.
I firmly believe that Geno Atkins is one of the few transcendent defensive players in the NFL. Due to the fact that he’s listed at 6’1 and 300 pounds, he’s a popular comparison for Will Sutton. I think there isn’t a doubt that if a team thought Will Sutton was Geno Atkins that he’d be a Top 5 pick in the draft, with size not being a matter of importance. However, while I’m definitely for Will Sutton avoiding size discrimination and being a first round pick, I do not think he is Geno Atkins.
Undersized pass rushers usually have their game primarily based upon speed and quickness; Atkins and Sutton are no different. The thing that separates players like Atkins (and for another example, Von Miller) is the tremendous ability to convert speed into power.
While I’ve seen instances of Sutton shocking blockers with an initial blow that comes from his initial quickness, not only is his initial blow not as powerful as Atkins’ is, but Sutton does not maintain the same amount of power throughout the duration of the battle as Atkins does in most instances. It’s one thing to deliver an initial jolt to a bigger opponent, but once they recover (as most starting NFL guards will), you still need to sustain power in order to fully complete the “speed to power” conversion.
The clip below (Sutton is circled in black) is a perfect illustration of this. Sutton initially gets his blocker stumbling backwards, his blow fails to separate the hands of the offensive lineman as Atkins’ did. Once the blocker is able to re-establish himself, Sutton becomes a non-factor as he cannot maintain power generation.
After viewing both players extensively, the main thing I’ve noticed that explain why Sutton isn’t able to consistently do the same things Atkins can in terms of speed to power is the fact that Sutton’s first step isn’t off the same caliber of Atkins’. While Sutton’s first step is “good”, he relies more on playing with forward lean; Atkins is downright explosive out of his stance and generates a lot of force. While Sutton is very quick, it’s a totally different animal to create that kind of force within an instant. Another discrepancy is that Sutton’s punch power and functional strength are just simply not as good yet, it will be interesting to see if the reported weight gain aids in this regard.
Another discrepancy between the two is their play in the run game. While both make their money as disrupters who penetrate the backfield, Sutton is mainly confined to from tackle to tackle. What I mean by that is that he plays mostly within a "box", Atkins has much more range. I’ve routinely seen Atkins chasing down outside zone runs across the line of scrimmage and beyond. In addition to this, Sutton is not nearly as consistent with his tackling. However, I would like to add that I do not feel as if Sutton is a pass rush specialist at the next level. While Sutton will be blown off the ball when an offensive lineman matches or betters Sutton's pad level, Sutton has a natural feel for how blocks develop and will use a quick lateral step in order to beat blocks to the spot. Sutton also possesses plus flexibility.
Now, in case you’ve forgotten, earlier in this article, I did say this: “However, while I’m definitely for Will Sutton avoiding size discrimination and being a first round pick…”, I just don’t believe he’s the same caliber player of Geno Atkins, and that’s not his upside. I think a much more accurate comparison for him is Rod Coleman, former Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle. Coleman was a Pro Bowler, and racked up 3 seasons with 10+ sacks. Coleman at his best was a very good football player, and I think that’s the level Sutton will play at when jumps to the next level. Like Coleman (who was listed at 6’2 285), Sutton wins not only with very good quickness, but with a very strong understanding of hand usage, and leverage concepts..
The above two images show Sutton at his best. He gets the offensive lineman to overcommit when he takes a quick jab step to the outside in the first image. When the offensive lineman overextends (to compensate for his initial mistake) in the second image, Sutton is quick to attack, by engaging with his hands. He uses his violence to knock the blocker’s hands away, which brings us to the last image, where Sutton uses the force from his block destruction in order to create more forward lean, and propel himself to the quarterback.
All videos and images courtesy of draftbreakdown.com