With Dez Bryant being released by the Cowboys, Jason Garrett’s team lacks a true No. 1 option at receiver. SMU’s stud draft prospect Courtland Sutton has the physical tools to step into that role in Dallas.
The heir apparent to Dez Bryant may already be in Dallas. He’s not on the Cowboys, but down the road at SMU. Courtland Sutton, a 6-foot-3 218-pound ball of clay has the size, physicality, and upside to be the next great Cowboys receiver.
One of the dirty little secret of Bryant’s recent seasons was his sloppy route running, something he set out to fix this offseason. The former Oklahoma State standout has always relied more on his strength and brute force to win than his precision and nuance to create separation.
When you have a 3-cone in the 9th percentile and a short shuttle in the 5th, that may just be life for Bryant. We never should have expected him to come and be Antonio Brown, breaking people’s ankles on a double move.
Sutton already possesses the strength and ability to win at the catch point that Bryant had in his prime. Most of what he did for SMU was run slants, posts, and fades, using his big frame, long arms, and strength to win contested catches.
Watch this play and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Dez. He might as well have thrown up the “X” afterward.
This is kind of Courtland Sutton in a nutshell for me. This isn’t a great route, he doesn’t always get great separation but it usually doesn’t matter, he’s big, physical, can make contested catches and take the hit across the middle. pic.twitter.com/P5WPrZeSj2
— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) April 12, 2018
While he lacks the nuance in his routes that fellow 2018 draft receiver Calvin Ridley possesses, so did Bryant. That’s not what he did and that’s not what the Cowboys need him to be.
On the other hand, Sutton boasts much better physical tools. His 3-cone score was one of the best at the combine, and adjusting for his size, is one of the best we’ve seen in recent years. His agility score puts him in the 97th percentile for receivers.
That speaks to a kind of upside Bryant simply never had. That’s not to say Sutton is a lock to be better than Dez. Not at all. It’s easy to forget now how dominant Bryant was in his prime and expecting any receiver who hasn’t played an NFL snap to reach that level of success would be foolish.
But in terms of potential to get better, in terms of upside, Sutton could end up being a more well-rounded receiver than Dez while still excelling in some of the same ways. One of the places Bryant excels is on backshoulder balls. Here’s an example of Sutton winning deep—this throw could be over the top—but with an underthrown ball, Sutton tracks it, adjusts, and makes a contested catch just before taking a shot.
Courtland Sutton has slipped a bit on media mocks. Still think some franchise falls in love with him for RD1. They’ll love the size/speed/highpt combo he provides. pic.twitter.com/R5xsFSFnvL
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) March 30, 2018
With Allen Hurns, Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley, the Cowboys need a big body receiver to work underneath and in the red zone. Sutton can do more than that eventually, but he can provide that possession element right away.
Let him work on slants and dare corners to try and fight underneath a player with his size and strength. Throw him fades and fade-stops in the red zone just like with Dez. And every once in a while get him down the field on in-breaking routes where he shows flashes of ability to create major separation at top speed.
SMU WR Courtland Sutton
Find me another 6’3″ WR in this draft with smooth vertical cuts like this…
Flashes eyes outside, numbers over knees, steps compact, fluid hips, safety has zero chance.
He sinks and bursts so easily. pic.twitter.com/IVe8F7ToZi
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) March 6, 2018
With Williams threatening teams deep and the combination of Beasley and Hurns to work the slot, the Cowboys need a legitimate outside receiver to fill in the gaps. Sutton may be raw, but his physical profile suggests limitless upward mobility in his game if he can learn to harness his tools.
Even if he doesn’t, he has a Alshon Jeffery/Dez Bryant skillset already in place to bully corners and win without much separation. Even he’s just Dez Lite, that’s precisely the type of player the Cowboys need.
Will he be as good as Bryant? Chances are he won’t be as dominant as Bryant was in his prime. But with his skillset, he could be good for longer and has a chance to be a more complete receiver.
And he wouldn’t even need to change his area code.