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Film breakdown: What the all-22 says about new Lions CB Cameron Sutton

Examining cornerback Cameron Sutton’s impact on the field during the 2022 season.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

As part of our ongoing NFL free agency coverage, we will be breaking down film on each of the top Detroit Lions’ recent acquisitions. Going in chronological order, first up is cornerback Cameron Sutton.

Sutton spent each of his first six years in the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted by the franchise in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. After seeing his role and usage gradually increase over the years, he became a full-time starter during the 2021 season, and went on to have his best season as a professional in 2022. And with defensive backs always being a hot commodity, executives around the league took notice—including Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes.

Detroit would end up immediately pursuing the veteran corner, inking a three-year, $33 million deal with $22.5 guaranteed at signing.

“The Lions on Monday went hard after the former Pittsburgh corner, 28, and the deal got finalized somewhere around 2:30 that afternoon,” NFL writer Peter King wrote in his weekly column. “Agent David Canter had told Sutton he hoped his contract would end up around $10 million a year.”

Sutton brings experience, leadership, and versatility to a young cornerbacks room that will look much different in 2023 than it did in 2022. The season could start tomorrow and I would feel comfortable penciling him in as CB1, and his presence alone should do wonders for a unit that struggled with communication at times last season—especially earlier in the year.

Lining up all over the field

One thing that immediately stands out when you get into Sutton’s tape is how often he is communicating. Pre-snap and post-snap, he is constantly pointing and directing traffic. Also, from the very first defensive possession of the season—you see how much Pittsburgh moved him around on the backend. One snap he is outside near the boundary—

the next he is in the slot—walked up near the line of scrimmage. This was a common theme throughout my initial study, with Sutton consistently lining up all over the place for the Steelers’ defense.

Below, he is matched up against Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins, and even though this was ultimately called back because of a penalty—I’m not mad with how Sutton handled this rep.

In the clip below, Sutton lines up near the line of scrimmage again due to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s pre-snap motion. From there, he squeezes the play on the backside, keeping his outside shoulder free—which allows him to eventually help make the stop on Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon.

Ball-hawking skills

After watching the clip below several times, this play by Sutton reminds me of one of safety Kerby Joseph’s interceptions against the Green Bay Packers. Sutton begins lined up in the slot on the top half of your screen. Knowing he has help on the inside, Sutton is using outside leverage against the receiver as he gets into his route. Burrow does his best to sell his eyes towards Chase at the bottom of your screen, but Sutton seems to have a beat on the ball from the jump. As wide receiver Tyler Boyd begins to gradually break inside towards the hash, Sutton sees Burrow cut the ball loose, and turns on the jets—snatching the ball from the would-be-receiver for a turnover going the other way. An incredible play from a defensive back that understands exactly what the offense is trying to do.

In this series, we have the Bengals operating in the video below in the low-red. Pre-snap, you can see Sutton communicating something with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Post-snap, something is said between he and the other defensive back responsible for defending the two-receiver stack the Bengals were showing on the wide side of the field. A well-timed and on-target pass slips by Sutton this time, resulting in a score for Boyd that would get the Bengals back in the game.

There were plenty of other reps where Sutton was lined up on an island against Chase, and a handful where the young receiver got the better of Sutton—which is to be expected to an extent with an athlete like Chase and quarterback like Burrow. Almost like a lethal scorer in basketball—eventually those two will find their rhythm.

However, the reps Chase came out on top didn’t discourage the veteran corner. Below we have the Bengals again working inside the 5-yard line, with Chase split out at the top of the screen, one-on-one with Sutton. As soon as the ball is snapped, Burrow whips his gaze towards Chase, throwing a fade to his former college teammate at LSU. This time, Sutton is all over it from the get-go. He sees that Burrow is looking his way almost immediately, and does a great job of finding the football, disengaging from the receiver, and at least making an attempt at getting a hand on the pass.

A few plays later, Sutton is in a similar position—lined up across from Chase again near the top of your screen. Pre-snap, you can see how Sutton is lining up with his feet set towards the boundary. Time and time again, you see Sutton’s advanced knowledge of defensive principles show up. Using outside leverage, Sutton trails his man to the sideline before the receiver whips around and begins trying to make his way back towards the middle of the field. Burrow attempts to sneak a pass over Sutton’s head to Chase near the back corner of the endzone, but Sutton already has eyes on the ball, and is able to nearly come away with the interception despite the pass not being intended for his man.

Always competing

Next we fast forward to Week 16 of the 2022 season where the Steelers find themselves at home on Christmas Eve, hosting the Raiders on what was a cold and blustery day in Pittsburgh. At this point, the Steelers have turned their season around from an ugly 2-6 start, with Sutton and the rest of the defense playing at a really high level.

Similarly to the matchup against the division-rival Bengals, Sutton would again have his hands full against Las Vegas with a wide receiver that Lions’ fans should be well-acquainted with—All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams.

On the Raiders’ first offensive series, they moved the ball effectively down to the Steelers’ 15-yard line. Below, you can spot Sutton creeping in towards the line of scrimmage from the slot, making quarterback Derek Carr think twice about a possible blitz. But once the ball is snapped, Sutton bails and gets into his drop to cover slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Like the touchdown above against Cincinnati, Sutton is in-phase with Renfrow, and nearly records another pass break-up. Instead, the ball slips by the outstretched arms of Sutton, and into Renfrow’s grasp for a Las Vegas touchdown.

I absolutely love everything about this rep below from Sutton. Keep your eyes on the bottom of your screen. Renfrow is sent in pre-snap motion towards the slot, and he must have been Carr’s first option in this concept as the quarterback is almost locked in on the receiver from the beginning. Sutton is playing off Renfrow, forcing him to read-and-react as the receiver is running towards him near midfield. Since he is in a low, athletic stance, Sutton is able to break with Renfrow as he cuts towards the hashmarks—hoping to make himself available to Carr. Sensing this, Sutton positions himself under Renfrow while using his hands to feel where the receiver is behind him. This forces a difficult throw over the top for Carr to the shorter Renfrow, resulting in an incomplete pass. Just a heady, veteran play by the former Volunteer after things didn’t go his way earlier in the matchup.

The clip below might be my favorite play I have seen thus far from Sutton. Once again, he is lined up across from Adams at the top of your screen. Don’t let Carr’s eyes fool you—he wanted to go to Adams the whole way here. Out of his break, Adams runs at Sutton before putting his right foot in the ground and breaking towards the sideline. Sutton responds by flipping his hips from facing inwards towards the hash, to the opposite direction now facing the sideline. Almost instantly, Adams changes direction again, this time making his way back up-field. Sutton then gets into his backpedal, mirroring Adams in near-perfect unison. Once Adams turns back around towards the line of scrimmage to work back towards the ball, Sutton is already in-phase and nearly in Adams’ hip pocket—forcing a tough catch and an incompletion near the boundary. Against a wide receiver of Adams’ caliber, you really can’t play this much better.

Lastly in the clip below, Las Vegas has the ball late in the game with under a minute remaining, down three points. Carr takes the snap in the shotgun, with Sutton close to the 40-yard marker near the bottom of your screen. Responsible for one deep-half of the field, his task is to not let anything get behind him. In a desperate attempt to pickup a chunk of yards through the air, Carr uncorks a pass to Renfrow down the seam, only for Sutton to track it down and intercept it—sealing the game for Pittsburgh.

Studying tape of Sutton operating in the secondary is truly a treat for any fan of the game. He seems to always understand what is going on around him, which helps in his effort to aid teammates throughout the course of a game. And even when he is beat on a play, something that is inevitable for a cornerback in today’s NFL, he quickly shakes it off—readying himself for the next time a quarterback tries throwing a pass his way. Having Sutton on the field should pay immediate dividends for the Lions on defense, and him being a mentor to young players like safety Kerby Joseph should also bode well for the secondary in the long term.

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