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Roster impact of the Detroit Lions signing CB Cameron Sutton

Most are anticipating the Detroit Lions to overhaul their cornerback room this offseason and that process took a big step forward in signing Cameron Sutton.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes made arguably the biggest free agent signing of his tenure in the Motor City when he signed cornerback Cameron Sutton to a 3-year, 33-million contract.

Sutton entered the NFL in 2017, as a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He spent his first four seasons as a multi-versatile reserve, shifting between outside corner, inside nickel, and a few looks at safety. Sutton started a handful of games in the back half of 2020, earned a 2-year contract extension, then took on a full-time starting role in 2021, and went on to have his best season as a professional in 2022.

While Sutton is mainly an outside corner (roughly 70% of snaps in 2022), he still moves inside (20% as a slot corner and 7% in the box) on occasion, showing he has the ability and intelligence to matchup situationally—something his coaches and teammates appreciate about him.

“There are so many different things Cam (Sutton) does that go unnoticed,” Steelers All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward said on the Minus Three Podcast “He can play nickel, he can play outside, he can play the dime. The fact that you can move him around—and the fact that he plays with a little bit of a mean streak—he is a guy that I really do appreciate.”

In three of his last four seasons in Pittsburgh, Sutton earned a 70+ coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, with his most notable skill being that he does not give up many yards. Last year, PFF noted that Sutton gave up just 411 receiving yards which check in as ninth among cornerbacks who played at least 400 coverage snaps. In addition to his infrequent yardage given up, Sutton also registered 43 tackles, 15 (!) pass breakups, and three interceptions in 2022.

In the chart below, which compares yardage allowed versus forced incompletion rate, you’ll notice Sutton lands in the middle of the upper left quadrant (Lockdown):

While Sutton (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) is not a traditional CB1 in the NFL, he has all the skills to be a matchup weapon that can operate as a team's top corner.

In Detroit, Sutton should assume one of the Lions starting roles, allowing for healthy competition on the opposite corner spot between Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs. And because of Sutton’s versatility, there will also be times all three see the field at the same time.

But just because the Lions now have three corners with starting experience, this should not preclude them from still dipping into the corner market in the NFL Draft—including potentially using a first-round pick—either No. 6 or 18—to add competition.

Additionally, while Sutton has the range to play nickel, the Lions will likely also still need to add depth there. Currently, 2022 seventh-round pick Chase Lucas is the top-rated player inside, but it’s unclear if he is ready to take on a more significant role. That means the Lions could still be looking to add depth inside, possibly by adding a safety/slot hybrid player in the NFL Draft—which there seems to be plenty of in this draft cycle.

Bottom line, the Lions got a big upgrade at the corner position on Monday, but if the team is planning on overhauling the position in a manner most suspect, they are not close to done adding talent to the position group.

Track all of the Lions free agency moves here and you can see all the latest rumors here.

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