Will Sutton might not fit the traditional mold of an interior defensive lineman. After all, haven't we been sold that if you're not 290 or 300 pounds, you are undersized for the position?
But what Arizona State's 6-foot-2, 270-pounder brings to the position is a first-step quickness that is baffling opposing lineman and allowing Sutton to set up shop in the other team's backfield. He's too big to be a linebacker. But clearly not too small to be considered the top defensive lineman in the conference -- and right up there nationally -- through the first five weeks of the season.
"He plays much bigger than he is," said Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. "I can tell you some of the great ones that played were 6-foot. He's got that special get-off. He's a very, very smart player. That's the thing that sticks out to me is how much he studies film and just how smart he plays. He's got great character and I think that's what separates him from everybody else. He's got that first step, that get-off and that passion for playing the game. He's special. There's no doubt about that."
Some numbers for your consideration:
Sutton is the top tackler in the Pac-12 who is not linebacker or defensive back with 34 (21 solo).
He has 10 tackles for a loss and has contributed to minus-48 yards.
He's tied for second in the conference (eighth nationally) with 6.5 sacks.
Sutton was recently added to the Bednarik Award watch list -- going to the nation's most outstanding defensive player -- and is coming off a monster game on the road against Cal where he notched six solo tackles (nine total) and three sacks.
The Sun Devils are on bye this week and will return to the field next Thursday night on ESPN against Colorado. And while the Buffs are spending a lot of their bye week on self evaluation, head coach Jon Embree already knows about Sutton.
"No. 90, yeah, he needs to go. He needs to go ahead and start getting paid," Embree said with a laugh. "He's the best D-lineman I've seen by far in our conference. Love the kid's motor and the passion and he plays the game like you want him to play. Great hands, leverage. He's a very good player and we're going to have to find answers for him. I've only watched a few plays, but he's the guy that consistently jumps out every game as a playmaker."
With Sutton's help, the Arizona State defense ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, yielding just 13.6 points per game, first in total defense, where they are the only team allowing fewer than 300 yards per game and first in pass-efficiency defense. And coaches will tell you a good pass defense starts with the big guys up front -- even if they are undersized.
"Obviously [Sutton] is very physically talented and gifted, but he just has a passion inside of him that is unique and plays with that passion," Graham said. "What we have done is taken a system and designed that system for him and then he plays smart, he plays disciplined and therefore he excels.”