Of all eight members of the Chicago Bears’ 2014 draft class, one of those will prove to be the most significant signee:
The two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year played his college ball at Arizona State, where he accumulated 37 tackles for tackles for loss and 17 sacks during his final two seasons as a Sun Devil. His stats dropped significantly from his junior to his senior year, which many observers attributed to his weight gain; nonetheless, the Bears still ended up selecting him 82nd overall, in the third round of the draft.
Despite being a lower draft pick, he will more than likely emerge as a solid interior player and a team leader, as he did at ASU.
Following Sutton’s stellar junior season in which he compiled 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, he was forced to make a difficult decision: whether to return to the team for his last year and earn his degree, or to enter the NFL draft. The decision was a difficult one, as he had been plagued by a knee injury during the season which cost him playing time in several games, and he knew suiting up as a Sun Devil again would expose him to further injury that could possibly end up costing him his career in the NFL.
Regardless, Sutton announced his decision in a press conference in January of 2013, stating that he would return to ASU for his final year.
Sutton’s 2013 season didn’t quite go as many had expected, with some writers even going so far as to call his performance, “dull." Aaron Sims of the Field Gulls had this to say about Sutton’s senior campaign:
The problem is that this is obviously the 2014 Draft and Sutton is not being graded solely off of his 2012 performance -- his 2013 effort was dull. The disparities between the two seasons are almost eerie. In 2012, Sutton was an explosive athlete that used an array of pass rush moves and played a high motor to repeatedly abuse interior offensive linemen. In 2013, he wasn't explosive, played slow, disappeared for long stretches in games and wasn't relentless. According to Sutton, the reason this happened was because he got too fat.
Per Sims’ article, Sutton’s explanation for his drop in performance was his weight gain, which according to him was coming from “outside sources” telling him that he would need to bulk up to be an effective player in the NFL.
Even though his senior campaign didn’t quite go as expected, Sutton will more than likely prove to be a force for the Bears’ defense, which ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams last season. In his preparation for the combine, he started focusing on cutting some of the weight that he had gained during the previous season.
According to an article by azcentral.com writer Kent Somers, which included transcripts of Sutton’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, he played his junior year around 280 and then bulked up for his senior year, in which he was playing around 320.
During the combine, Sutton said that he was willing to put in the work to be at the playing weight for whichever team he signed with. “I weighed 303 this morning. I’m planning to get down to 290, 295 at Pro Day. Then whenever I go, if they want me to get heavier, I’ll get heavier. If they want me to stay there, I’ll stay there.”
Though one NFL executive questioned Sutton’s character prior to the draft, ASU head coach Todd Graham came to his defense and called the remarks unfounded.
They need to call me...Because how he's matured and how he's developed as a leader of this football team -- and I mean that from a character standpoint -- I'd obviously highly recommended him and highly disagree with that (criticism).
Graham went on to say that those who weren’t working with Sutton daily didn’t truly know him and praised how much he had matured over the course of his senior year; examples of his leadership qualities were well documented on the weekly Pac-12 series, The Drive.
Sutton’s success come from his quickness and his arm movements, which, according to ASUDevils.com publisher Chris Karpman (subscription required), “enhance his other athletic advantages and enables him to put offensive players off-balance due to swim and displacement moves."
Karpman also noted that once he’s in the offensive backfield, he takes advantage of his stoutness, good hands and foot agility to bring down quarterbacks as well as running backs.
Following the loss of defensive tackle Henry Melton to the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears’ knew they needed a strong replacement, and a bet on Sutton was more than likely a safe one; along with former LSU tackle Ego Ferguson, the Bears’ could very well end up having a defense to be reckoned with come August.
Bleacher Report’s Team Stream Now analysts Matt Miller and Michael Felder, both gave the Bears an A grade for selecting Sutton and are predicting opposing offenses will have a tough time containing him, especially considering the addition of Ferguson. Felder, speaking of offenses facing the duo said, “You’re in trouble, because you want to double-team one of those guys, and the other one can eat you alive.” Miller agreed, saying that the Bears had one of “the best drafts that anyone could have,” due to the acquisition of Sutton and Ferguson on the defensive line and Kyle Fuller in the secondary.
The Bears’ were very lucky to acquire a player like Sutton, especially given his stats over the his last two seasons at the collegiate level, and his willingness to work hard in the gym and keep his playing weight at whatever level his team asks of him. With Sutton leading the defense, the Bears may just find themselves atop the NFC North in 2014, and an annual contender to make the playoffs for years to come.