In just a matter of several weeks, the Steelers have seen all that in Sutton, their third-round draft choice. Now, they want to see more when they head to training camp next month.
“Cam Sutton is pretty on-point in terms of what we saw of his abilities at Tennessee, meaning we saw a player who was able to make plays,” secondary coach Carnell Lake said. “His neck-up intelligence helped make a lot of those plays, and he seemed to have brought that with him. It hasn’t dropped off. With Cam, when you tell him once, at most twice, you don’t have to tell him again.”
Sutton might not be generating the same anticipation that existed each of the previous two seasons when the Steelers drafted two other cornerbacks — Senquez Golson in the second round in 2015 and Artie Burns with their No. 1 pick a year ago. And that could be because the Steelers waited until the third round to draft him.
But he comes with a pedigree every bit impressive, if not more so, than Golson and Burns. And, according to Sutton, he lasted until the third round, the 94th choice overall, for one reason:
“A big part of that was the injury,” Sutton said.
Sutton (5 feet 11, 188 pounds) missed seven games after his leg was broken near the ankle in a non-contact injury in the third game of the season against Ohio. He was expected to miss the remainder of the season but returned to play in the final two games, even though his right leg wasn’t 100 percent.
That dedication is part of what the Steelers liked about Sutton when they drafted him.
“Even before then, I still stayed around the team, traveled home and away,” Sutton said. “My commitment level, not only to the school and the team, was to those out there sacrificing, all the things we did leading up to those moments on Saturday.
“Being one of the leaders on the team, you don’t want to see one of your leaders go down. But they looked to me to keep those guys going. I had to stay around the team, stay around those guys. I wanted to do that. Nothing was going to keep me away from the team.”
That leg is fully recovered, Sutton said, and the Steelers are hoping that will allow him to eventually become the nickel back in their sub packages. Sutton played predominantly man coverage at Tennessee, and that fits right in with the Steelers wanting to adjust their defensive schemes in the secondary in 2017.
“I’d like to see Cam, like all my guys, I’d like to see them compete and push the secondary to a better point, to be competitive, compete for (a) starting job, compete to get on the field and see where that takes us,” Lake said. “With Cam, over time, ultimately if you’re making plays and you’re productive, you’re probably going to wind up making the team and helping this team out.”
Sutton made an impact immediately at Tennessee, starting every game since he arrived on campus until his leg injury. He became the first freshman to return an interception for a touchdown since star safety Eric Berry did it in 2007. As a sophomore, he led the Volunteers with 16 passes defensed and finished his career with 37.
While lacking ideal size, Sutton has similar skills and is built comparably to another cornerback, Tre’Davious White (5-11, 192), who went in the first round to the Buffalo Bills. Curiously, White was one of the first-round targets of the Steelers. Not surprisingly, each player excelled at man coverage.
“I did quite a bit of that at college, winning that matchup, dominating who is across from you, taking pride in that,” Sutton said. “From a confidence standpoint, you’re one of the best guys out there on the field and you don’t want to be outdone.”