The 2020 season for the Steelers defense was delightful. The amount of high-end play they got across the entire defense was a huge reason as to why they were so dominant last season. Established studs like Cam Heyward were still great, T.J. Watt took another step up, and others, like Bud Dupree, had breakout, career years.
However, no player’s breakout went more under the radar than Cam Sutton’s step up. As the do-it-all subpackage defender in the secondary, Sutton was tasked with doing a lot of jobs in the Steelers secondary. From boundary corner, slot corner, dimebacker, and deep safety, Sutton did it all for the Steelers. Most importantly, he did it extremely well and earned himself the most playing time of his career to date. The coaching staff was not shy in giving him praise in this training camp after his standout 2019 season.
“He has a lot of versatility, a super-smart guy,” defensive backs coach Teryl Austin said.
It is his football IQ that allows him to condense all of those aforementioned roles into one super subpackage player that few teams actually possess. The stats show off just how impressive Sutton’s 2019 season actually was despite only playing a limited amount of snaps.
In man coverage, Sutton only allowed .86 yards of separation per target, which is a truly elite mark, even just on 28 overall targets. On those targets, he allowed a 53% completion percentage and a 69.5 passer rating. Overall, those are great numbers. In addition, Sutton was a great open-field tackler, as he only missed two tackles all season. Even against star receiver Keenan Allen, Sutton shut him down for only one reception for six yards on six targets. In those targets, Sutton registered four pass breakups.
It is undeniable that Sutton stepped into his own. That is shown on the stat sheet and of course, on tape as well. It seems to have earned a more prominent role heading into the 2020 season on the Steelers defense.
“I think Cam (Sutton) will have an expanded role I would think in terms of—he will still play some nickel for us, he plays some dime for us. He plays corner for us, he has played some safety for us,” Coach Austin said.
It is key to note that Sutton actually started over current starting nickel cornerback Mike Hilton at the beginning of last season. Whether Austin’s statement means Sutton will eat into Hilton’s snaps in the nickel package is a question to be determined, but it seems he very well might. In dime package, it would see that Sutton would continue his duties as the dime backer and third deep roaming safety in that formation.
Regardless, in a contract year for Sutton, the bigger role he takes on will be representative of his payday. The Steelers with both Sutton and Hilton hitting the market will have to pick which player they would like to retain. For 2020, Sutton makes every Steelers fan feel comfortable about the cornerback depth at bost spots, and he is the likely backup to Minkah Fitzpatrick at free safety, too.
The extent of Sutton’s role may reveal how much confidence this coaching staff has in Sutton. Regardless, however, it is a big year for Sutton and if his play has shown anything, it is that he is an underrated, emerging piece on the Steelers defense.