Most didn’t think Cameron Sutton would be participating in Tennessee’s spring practice just a few months ago. Yet there he was, holding down his usual cornerback position, as the Vols finished up their second day of spring camp.
Sutton looked like a surefire early entrant into the NFL last fall as the media had him going as high as the middle of the first round of the NFL Draft. However, he seemed to slip a bit as the season went on. Sutton told SEC Country that he received a second-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board in his first public comments since deciding to return to Tennessee for his senior season.
“It was alright,” Sutton said of the grade. “A lot of guys get determined on what they do on pro day and things like that. Draft grades don’t mean anything. It was just like being recruited with stars and all that stuff. I just look at it as piece of paper that says to me where I could be placed at or where they possibly see me at but not as far as what I’m going to be.”
It would certainly seem like a tough decision for Sutton, who announced his decision via Twitter in January. Choosing the NFL means guaranteed money. Choosing college could mean improving his draft stock or suffering a serious injury that could undermine his draft status next year. Still, Sutton said the decision wasn’t a difficult one.
“Not a hard decision at all, just because that was best for me at the time,” he said. “A lot of guys think it might come back to bite you. I just feel like it’s another opportunity to bond with the university, continue to make plays and do the things I love, which is play football. The NFL is something that will always be there. I’ll get the opportunity next year. I’ll be ready for that.”
The decision wasn’t simply about his draft grade. Sutton insists he made the decision by consulting with his families. One was his actual family. The other was his football family.
“I sat down and talked to my family, coach Jones and the rest of the staff,” Sutton said. “That played a big part in it and just my love for this university and this team and the direction this team is going and where we’re going to go. That all played a big factor in why I came back.”
Sutton had a compadre in the NFL decision-making process. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was also considering an early jump to the NFL but also decided to return for his senior season. The two frequently confided in one another as they weighed the pros and cons.
“We talked a lot about it obviously, because we just had the opportunity and we were blessed to have an option to leave or come back,” Sutton said.
Tennessee could certainly use Sutton for more than just his coverage skills. Already known as a leader, he’ll be expected to continue that role, especially since former senior safety Brian Randolph has departed. Sutton and Reeves-Maybin will be depended upon to lead a young defense.
“We had a successful year last year,” Sutton said. “Obviously, not where we want to be but we were two leaders on the team from (Team) 119. We felt that if we came back, we would continue to lead and push guys as well as the guys we’re bringing in and bonding with the guys we have now. We can put together something special.”
It’s hard to imagine Tennessee’s defense having to replace a lockdown cornerback and one of its best playmakers. Those lofty expectations that surround the Vols wouldn’t be nearly as high. Fortunately for Tennessee’s coaches, they don’t have to worry about replacing either Sutton or Reeves-Maybin.
“Ultimately, we’re back today,” Sutton said. “It just feels like the best for both of us.”