Canadian DB Eric Sutton scouting CFL combine competition, hopes to run elite forty-yard dash

Photo courtesy: SMU Athletics

Defensive back Eric Sutton doesn’t know any of the other players who are attending the CFL’s national combine later this month but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been checking out the competition on film.

“I’ve been looking at the DBs just trying to see where I stack up. I’ve seen the mock draft you guys made just for some added motivation, but as far as receivers I haven’t checked it out too much because I’m coming up there to compete. I don’t really care who they line-up. I’m on a mission,” said Sutton in a recent interview with 3DownNation.

“I want to be known as one of the best nickel-cornerbacks to ever play the game. That’s been my goal for the past five or six years, so that’s not going to stop depending on what receiver lines up in front of me. That’s just my mentality.”

Sutton was born in Regina while his father played defensive back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was raised by his mother in Los Angeles and started to play football after the family moved to Miami while he was in middle school. He moved to Dallas as a sophomore in high school where he found a new appreciation for the nuances of the game.

“I feel like Florida has better athletes for sure — and I know a lot of people are going to criticize me for saying that — but the Texas football culture is more organized and the coaching that you get is better than anywhere else in the world,” said Sutton.

The five-foot-nine, 178-pound cover man felt playing in Texas helped him realize how badly he wanted to play football at the professional level. He committed to Southern Methodist University, located just 10 kilometres north of downtown Dallas, which allowed him to continue developing as a player while remaining close to his family.

“Everybody in (SMU’s 2016) recruiting class went to high school in the state of Texas and that was something that (then-head coach) Chad Morris really emphasized. Once I got there me and my classmates decided we wanted to keep helping SMU get back to where it’s supposed to be having top-25 teams. I’m just glad I was part of that class.”

Sutton and his teammates achieved their goal of restoring SMU to its former glory. The Mustangs went 3-21 in the two years prior to their arrival on campus but their record improved to 10-3 by 2019, reaching No. 15 on the AP rankings following an 8-0 start to the season. It was the school’s first appearance in the top-25 since 1986.

The defensive back arrived on campus weighing only 155 pounds but was determined not to redshirt. He was stuck behind Horace Richardson and Jordan Wyatt on the depth chart — both of whom were later signed by the NFL as undrafted free agents — so he turned his attention to making an impact on special teams.

Sutton made 50 special teams tackles over his freshman and sophomore seasons and was named SMU’s top special teams player in both years.

“I feel like (playing so well on special teams) adds to my draft stock because games are won and lost off of special teams and we’re starting to see that more and more. To be able to punt the ball get the ball between ten yards after your offence didn’t have a successful drive, special teams is becoming more and more important,” he said.

“It’s also a way to get on the field if I have some vets in front of me (at defensive back) because at the end of the day, I want to play. I love to play football so wherever a team would need me, I don’t care if it’s at corner, nickel, free safety, strong safety or special teams.”

Sutton also took reps in Richardson’s spot through portions of the practice week, allowing him to work against future second-round NFL draft pick and Pro Bowl selection Courtland Sutton. Practicing against players of that calibre helped Sutton make the adjustment to the college level quickly.

“Seeing that every day in practice at 155 pounds, it just added to my progression as an athlete,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back and change it at all. I’m glad I played my freshman year and got thrown into the fire. It was good for my progression.”

Now weighing almost 180 pounds, Sutton expects to run exceptionally well at his pro day on March 24 and at the CFL national combine on March 25-27. He claims to have ran a 4.28 forty-yard dash during winter workouts following his junior season, which would be a CFL combine record.

A lower back injury limited Sutton to only four games in 2019 and he received a medical redshirt to extend his NCAA eligibility. He transferred to Texas State to get more film at nickelback, believing their defensive scheme would give him a better opportunity to play that position. He made 22 total tackles over seven games in 2021 with a season-high of nine in a 31-28 loss to Troy.

The Bobcats had several other Canadians on the roster this past season, including defensive lineman Samuel Obiang, offensive lineman Kyle Hergel, and 2021 first-round CFL draft pick Liam Dobson. Sutton spoke to each of them about what life in Canada is like as well as what it might be like to play in the CFL.

“I wanted to know what their experience of living in Canada and growing up there was like, so I learned a lot from all three of them,” he said. “Liam gave me the most useful information just because he was actually drafted already, so I was really asking him what the process was like for him and I learned a lot. I’ve found a real appreciation for the CFL.”

Other than the inclusion of the waggle, Sutton feels the Canadian game is very similar to the four-down football he grew up playing. He feels he could play anywhere in a CFL secondary, but the spot he would most like to play is strong-side linebacker.

“I feel like it’s kinda universal just depending on what you’re looking for and what you’re trying to stop as a defence. At that nickel position you just gotta be somebody that can cover in space and come up and make a tackle. I’m definitely not afraid to make a tackle and I can definitely cover in space, so that’s one position where I feel a team can really use me,” he said.

“The game is becoming in between the numbers, that’s where most of the action is. So if I can be in the action, that’s where I want to be.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.