Courtland Sutton announced himself to the nation as a redshirt freshman in 2015, posting a 49/862/9 line in 12 games. It was his first full season as a wide receiver after initially playing safety, as well as basketball for SMU.
Now in 2016, he’s a Biletnikoff Award Watch List candidate – one of just 7 underclassmen on the 53-member list – and left little doubt that he belongs among the nation’s elite WRs racking up 162 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 4 catches last Saturday in the Mustangs’ season opener against North Texas.
Should we discount Sutton’s meteoric rise because of lack of competition or the fact that he plays in a receiver friendly offensive system under head coach Chad Morris? How does Sutton compare to past WRs in similar situations?
An Impressive List Of Comparables
As I mentioned above, some may be quick to dismiss raw statistical output for players in scheme-dependent offenses such as SMU’s. So to get a better idea of how we should be valuing Sutton, I’ve stacked him up against other WRs that played their second and third collegiate seasons with Chad Morris during his time as offensive coordinator at Clemson.
We know that production at the collegiate level is vitally important for wide receivers. In order to quantify production, we can use team market share – the percentage of team’s catches, yardage and touchdowns accumulated by a single WR – as a normalized measure for comparison.
You’ve probably heard of the names on this list; they’re kind of a big deal:
Sutton’s 2015 season at age 20 is nearly identical to DeAndre Hopkins’s 2012, age 20 season in terms of team market share metrics. Sutton comes very close to Sammy Watkins 2013 production at a similar age. And Martavis Bryant, taken with the 118th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, comes nowhere near Sutton by these measures in either his sophomore or junior seasons.
While it would be easy to just take these results and run to the nearest street corner, hop up on a soapbox, and scream Sutton’s name for all to hear, we do need to consider level of competition. Clemson plays in the ACC, while SMU plays in the AAC, with the middle letters in the respective acronyms representing a sizeable difference in talent.
So in an attempt to balance the scales, I lined up Sutton’s metrics with Emmanuel Sanders, SMU’s all-time leading receiver, who also played at a lower level of competition during his sophomore and junior campaigns (Conference USA).
This comparison with Sanders, who was drafted 82nd overall in 2010, shows that Sutton’s small school status should not necessarily disqualify him from decent draft position should he declare following the 2016 season.
At 6 foot 4, 215 pounds, Courtland Sutton has the size we look for in a wide receiver prospect, has shown elite level production in his age 20 season, and compares favorably to proven NFL WRs hailing from Chad Morris’s pass-happy offenses. While we may not see another performance like his Week 1 showing against North Texas again this season, dynasty owners would be wise to keep close tabs on this rising star.