NFL draft profile — No. 34: SMU WR Courtland Sutton

Long, limber and competitive pass catcher needs some work but could be a big playmaker

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Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.

34. SMU WR Courtland Sutton
6-foot-3, 218 pounds

Key stats: Sixth all-time in school history with 195 career receptions but third in receiving yards (3,220, behind only Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson) and second in TD catches (31, behind only Sanders). Sutton set the single-game school record for receiving yards with 252 against USF in 2016.

The skinny: Most teams missed on Sutton, who was a safety and tight end in a run-heavy offense coming out of Brenham, Texas, where he also played baseball and basketball and ran track. His only Power-5 offer came from Colorado, which gave away his scholarship spot eventually. SMU signed Sutton as an athlete, working first at safety before wide receivers coach Justin Stepp implored then-head coach June Jones to move Sutton to boundary receiver.

Sutton caught two passes for 27 yards in two games after the switch in 2014 as a true freshman but earned a medical redshirt following a lower back injury. In 2015, he started all 12 games and led the team in catches (49), receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (nine), also completing 2-for-2 passes for 75 yards that season. Sutton joined the Mustangs’ basketball team in late January 2016 and played four minutes in three games (three points, two rebounds). Named first-team all-AAC the next two seasons in football, topping the 1,000-yard and 10-TD marks both years. He also ran for a score in 2017 on his first and only college carry.

Sutton considered declaring following the 2016 season but stayed in school and chose to enter the 2018 NFL draft.

Upside: Textbook size, wingspan, hand size and movement skills for a modern receiver — can’t draw one up much better. Physically ready for NFL rigors. Used his elongated frame well. Has good body control and can make plays above the rim. Go-up-and-get-it mentality — wants the ball and can rip it away from DBs. Said to be mentally tough and driven. Competitor who wants to be great.

Feisty, willing blocker. Throws his weight around and invites contact. Has shown ability to break tackles, run through contact and make people miss. Works through contact and into traffic effectively. Sneaky short-area burst (exceptional 3-cone drill time for his size of 6.57 seconds). Productive — 143 catches over past two seasons and 31 TD catches in his past 37 games.

Nothing too fancy here, but watch as Sutton runs a solid bang-8 route, cuts it off in front of the lurking North Texas safety, shrugs off the tackle attempt with strength and balance and displays his burst on what would be a 62-yard touchdown:

Downside: Boundary receiver whose assignments were simplified at times. Converted safety who is still learning the finer points of receiver. Will need to spend time learning how to get off press coverage, run cleaner routes and crank up his snap-to-snap consistency. Play speed and timed speed don’t always match up. Underwhelming performance in the WR drills at the combine. Hands are a bit inconsistent. Wasn’t his team’s leading receiver last season — that would be LSU transfer Trey Quinn, who caught 114 passes to Sutton’s 68.

Beefed-up numbers against lesser competition. Didn’t always rise to challenge against better teams (e.g. one catch for zero yards vs. TCU in 2017, although he was bracketed most of the game and his quarterback missed him once for what should have been a touchdown.) Frustration can boil over at times — needs to harness his emotions just a bit. Called for late-game offensive pass interference against TCU after zero-yard game. Can get carried away with physicality — flagged three times in career for personal fouls for playing beyond the whistle.

Watch here against Houston as Sutton drifts on the fade around, extends his arms and unnecessarily commits OPI against 5-foot-11 corner Jeremy Winchester on what should have been an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown (and it cost his team points as SMU missed the end-of-half FG try on the next play):

Best-suited destination: Sutton might need a patient WR coach who can develop him over time, but he has the physical tools to compete and contribute right away in a defined role. Among the teams that could be interested in his skill set include the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Washington.

Quotable: “A few of us have debated him. More disagreement on him than others. One [scout] thinks he could be JuJu [Smith-Schuster] all over. One of our coaches doesn’t think he separates well enough. He didn’t look fluid in the position drills [at the combine]. It’s going to hurt his overall grade. I think someone takes him in the second [round].” — AFC college scouting director

Player comp: Michael Floyd

Expected draft range: Second round

Previous profiles

50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
38. Stanford DT Harrison Phillips
37. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard
36. Stanford S Justin Reid
35. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby