College football's best wide receiver prospect wasn't in the 2017 NFL draft, according to NFL scouts.
As good as Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross are—each was drafted in the top 10 this year—a wide receiver still in college has the potential to be better. And he's not even a Power Five player.
If you take a back-road drive through Texas on your way to Houston from Austin on Highway 290, you'll pass through Brenham. It's a small town of just over 15,000, hosting Blinn College—where Cam Newton played his JUCO ball—and Blue Bell ice cream. But this East Texas town is about to become known as the stomping ground of a top-tier wide receiver prospect.
Courtland Sutton was a first-team All-District performer as a tight end and safety for the Brenham Cubs. He was good enough to earn a 3-star rating from Rivals, Scout and ESPN as a high school player. He also averaged 15.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on the hardwood and played in three games for the Mustang basketball team before giving up the sport. That talent allowed Sutton to see the field as a true freshman at SMU, but he lasted only two games before suffering a season-ending injury. Once healthy, he came back with an impact redshirt freshman year—49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns—that put him on the map.
It's no coincidence that Sutton's breakout performance in 2015 matched up with the hire of new head coach Chad Morris. It was Morris, after all, who started the pipeline of NFL wide receivers from Clemson during his time as offensive coordinator there. DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams were all under the watch of Morris and current Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott.
With his 6'4" and 215-pound frame, Sutton is poised to become the next great Morris weapon in the pros. During this past season, he recorded 76 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors. He also blew past SMU's single-game receiving record with 252 yards on a career-high 13 catches against USF in mid-November.
Sutton was considered a top-15 player in this year's draft class, one team scout told Bleacher Report before the January deadline for underclassmen to return to school. That's why it was such a surprise when he opted to return to SMU for his redshirt junior season.
He'll now have the chance to not only improve his stock, but also to build a potential winner for Morris after two losing seasons together.
What do scouts see in Sutton? "[He's] a big, physical kid with good fluidity, body control and hands," one area scout responsible for Texas told B/R. "His top-end speed is the question, but he has a chance to be a No. 1 wide receiver."
"He's better than your boy Alshon [Jeffrey] was in college," another said. "Cleaner as a prospect, too."
Sutton's size and ability to win down the field profile him as a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. The same scouts that talked up Sutton as a potential first-round pick noted he must answer questions about his speed and whether he'll be able to separate from NFL defenders.
"He's a lot more like [Laquon] Treadwell than a Mike Evans in terms of speed and how he separates," one scout said. "But he's also playing in an offense that's great for projecting receivers."
Sutton can't answer speed questions in-season unless he comes out looking completely different as a player. More likely, we'll have to wait until February at the 2018 scouting combine to see what type of track speed Sutton has. It bears watching whether he's able to separate with size—like Treadwell, Evans and Jeffrey do—against better competition when SMU plays TCU, UConn or Houston.
The 2018 receiver class looks strong with Sutton, Deon Cain (Clemson), Calvin Ridley (Alabama) and others competing for the top spot. Heading into the season, though, Sutton is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver on my board.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.