INDIANAPOLIS––It appears Packers head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t blowing smoke at the NFL Combine when he said he doesn’t want to see the defensive line to get smaller.
Arizona State’s Will Sutton, one of the top-ranked defensive linemen in this year’s draft, endured a lot of criticism for a dip in production in gaining as much as 40 lbs. from his junior to his senior season in college.
But apparently the Packers aren’t looking for him to return to his original playing weight, should they select him in the NFL Draft.
“A 4-3 team, they want me to be that penetrating 3 tech,” said Sutton, “but I talked to the Packers and they are a 3-4 (defense) and they were like, ‘If you come here, we’re going to keep the weight on you,’ because I’m an athletic 320 guy. Wherever they want me to go, I’m going to be there and compete.”
According to Sutton, he went from 280 lbs. in 2012 to as much as 320 lbs. in 2013, eating up to six meals a day, and his statistics suffered as a result.
As a junior Sutton made 63 tackles, a stunning 23.5 for a loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. Those numbers dropped to 48 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, four sacks and zero forced fumbles as a senior.
“Last year I was getting doubled and tripled the majority of the time out there,” said Sutton. “But I noticed it in my stamina. My junior year my motor was a lot better than my senior year. I noticed that for a fact, a lot more run to the ball. That’s something I’ve got to prove coming in. I’ve got to improve on my motor.”
Despite the decline from a statistical standpoint, that didn’t prevent voters from lauding Sutton with accolades. He was named a first-team Associated Press All-American, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and a first-team All-Pac 12 selection, all for two consecutive seasons.
Sutton said he’s just now learning the ropes of nutrition, dieting and eating healthy. Whatever he’s doing, Sutton is currently back down to 303 lbs. (and 6-0 height) at the Combine and expects to get even lower, around 290 to 295 lbs. for his on-campus pro day.
As far as measured drills, Sutton didn’t put up exceedingly impressive numbers, but when compared to athletic defensive end hybrids like Jadeveon Clowney, the big, defensive tackle types aren’t going to run fast times.
For what it’s worth, Sutton ran 5.36 seconds in the 40, among the slowest at the Combine. He also had 24 repetitions of 225 lbs. on the bench press.
It’s possible the Packers look to Sutton to help replace players like B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, depending on what happens in free agency. With all three of those players listed as being 325 lbs. or more, the Packers may need some beef up front.
As far as McCarthy is concerned, the recent report from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport doesn’t tell the whole story of what the Packers are looking to do in the trenches.
“I’ve never been part of a conversation that you want your D-linemen to be smaller. That’s not accurate,” said McCarthy. “We want to continue our process, but as far as evaluating D-linemen, we will be a little different on defense as far as how we utilize our defensive players, particularly our front players, because we do have a number of players who can play both the rush outside position and maybe make some impact from the inside position.
“But our evaluation as far as what we’re going to do bringing defensive linemen into our program––if anything, you always want to get bigger, stronger and faster and things like that. We’re definitely not going to be smaller.”
Not everyone thinks Sutton fits as a heavier player, however.
Providing analysis for NFL.com, Nolan Nawrocki writes of Sutton: “Played at a more natural weight and was noticeably a step quicker in 2012. Fits best as an under tackle in an even front and would be best playing close to 290 pounds.”
Considered a likely Day 2 draft choice, Sutton seems unfazed about his weight, willing to either gain or lose lbs. no matter who drafts him.
“Going from junior year to 280 to 320, knowing I can play nose, shade, five, four, three-tech, it just means I can be versatile and show I can play many positions," said Sutton. "Wherever they want to play, that’s where I want to go and put my heart in and excel at.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.