I think it’s safe to say that when Pittsburgh Steelers fans went to bed on Thursday night with visions of cornerbacks dancing in their heads, the name that they heard being announced was not Cameron Sutton. But that was the cornerback that they ended up taking with the 94th-overall selection during the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
With names as enticing as Chidobe Awuzie and Kevin King still on the board at the start of the day, it would be easy to understand the optimism. But even by their third-round pick, the likes of Shaquille Griffin, Fabian Moreau, and Quincy Wilson were gone—long gone in the case of the latter.
The introduction of Sutton into the cornerback room, however, is still an addition that will make the group better. It is especially his potential versatility that will be valuable, since he should be able to play both on the outside if necessary, but most likely in the slot, which is where the bigger concern is, more so short-term than immediate.
The Steelers played most of last season with William Gay, the veteran, utilizing the slot role to his advantage in zone coverages. He struggled in man, however, and that is where Sutton can be an important upgrade when Pittsburgh wants to use that technique.
But Gay is heading safely into the last couple of years of his career, I would expect, barring a move to safety. Senquez Golson is in danger at this point of not even making the roster, though of course the light will be left on for him if he can manage to hobble toward it on his busted foot.
Coty Sensabaugh is a one-year depth signing who is obviously not a long-term solution. But maybe Sutton can be. And even if he isn’t, long term, he can still represent an important versatile fixture who can step into multiple roles.
One of the things that the Steelers praised him for after they took him was the fact that he has football intelligence and is somebody whom they believe can function as an important hub of communication in their defense.
You probably shouldn’t need reminding, but communication is pretty important in case you’re blocking out the failures that have arisen in recent years due to that exact issue for the Steelers in the secondary, so somebody who can take control of that role is valuable.
“I think versatility in a defensive back is something you always should look for, the ability to be able to call any defense and the defensive back should be able to draw upon his skills to be able to handle that”, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said after the pick. “I think that just comes with drafting the right guys. I think this is a good attempt, especially in the third round, of getting someone who can help us do that”.
Sutton may not be the guy you wanted, but I do think he is a guy that can help, and the diversity of functions that he can be utilized to carry out only makes his potential value greater. He knows how to get his hands on the ball, even if he can improve in other areas.
Remember what I wrote yesterday, though. Kevin Colbert and his staff look for what players can do until they can’t find anything. They don’t look at what they can’t do because they know that players can grow. They’ve had some success growing some defensive backs just last year.