Sutton, SMU Continue Strong Start To Season

Ahead of the 2017 season, SMU was voted by members of the media to finish near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference’s West Division. At that time, players such as Courtland Sutton stated that this fueled the Mustangs to prove the doubters wrong.

Since that time, SMU has worked their way out to a 4-1 start with a 1-0 conference record after a 49-28 win over Connecticut this weekend – and Sutton has played a major role in the success of his team.

Sutton has used big games against North Texas and UConn to catapult himself to the top of college football with seven touchdowns. It is what Sutton has done in his down weeks – such as a two reception game in a 44-21 win over Arkansas State – that shows his true value at SMU and as an NFL prospect.

In these matches, Sutton often drew double, or even triple teams (see the TCU tape) to prevent quarterback Ben Hicks from finding his top receiver. This has allowed Trey Quinn and James Proche to jump out to career years due to single coverage.

Sutton has also shown his mettle as a blocker in these weeks, showing strong hands and solid footwork. As a team, SMU is averaging close to 5 yards per carry with many of their runs going to the outside. Sutton has repeated week after week that his personal stats are not his ultimate goal, but rather allowing his teammates to succeed when he draws the extra attention.

While the humble star receiver has done just that, he is also enjoying a potential career season through five weeks. He is on pace for 16 touchdowns, a number that would far exceed his career-high of 10 that he set in 2016. While his receptions and yards are down this season, he is getting open and into the end zone at a very high rate.

His improvements have come in this area, getting separation from defenders. Sutton has good speed, but is not known as a prototypical burner. This seasons, however, Sutton has shown improved awareness and an improved release off the line. Both of these skills were on display in his two touchdowns against UConn.

On his first touchdown, Sutton ran across a zone defense and stopped near the hash marks to create a lane for Hicks to find him. Sutton was delivered the ball, then used his strength and size to push through defenders and into the end zone.

His second touchdown shows arguably the biggest improvement in his game, getting a clean release off the line. Sutton had been known in the past for going through defenders with his size and strength, but on this 34-yard touchdown pass he got free off the line before burning his defender. Sutton took a stutter step to the outside before releasing inside and getting under the cornerback. He used his long-range speed to get between the cornerback and the safety before Hicks dropped the ball in for an untouched touchdown.

This development in Sutton’s skill set will help him when going against larger cornerbacks, something he will face more often when he gets into the NFL. This improvement takes the top wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, and makes him even more polished.