When Corey Davis was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the fifth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Western Michigan star became the first non-power conference receiver drafted first at his position since the Rams took Houston's Donnie Avery in 2008.
If SMU's Courtland Sutton follows suit in 2018, it will be the first time since 1960-61 that two non-power conference receivers were the first players drafted at their position in consecutive seasons.
Sutton, the top-ranked receiver in HERO Sports' 2018 NFL Draft rankings, is a 6-foot-4, 218-pound redshirt junior. The former three-recruit from Brenham, Texas, who rejected his only two Power Five scholarships (Colorado, Washington State) exploded for the Mustanges in 2016, recording 76 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Sutton has incredible leaping ability and body control that make it difficult for defenders to ever out jump him," says Billy Embody, publisher of Scout's Pony Stampede. "A lot of times defenders just drag him down to take a pass interference call. His big play threat is what separates him, but he's also a physical and willing blocker, which NFL teams will love when they turn on the tape."
They'll also love his production against top competition. He had 11 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown against Baylor and TCU, and 25 catches for 393 yards and one score against the three AAC teams that won 10 or more games (Temple, Tulsa and South Florida). Sutton stuffed box scores despite an uneven season from quarterback Ben Hicks, though Embody doesn't expect Hicks to have much of an impact on Sutton's draft stock — if he even wins the starting job.
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The redshirt freshman completed just 55.5 percent of his passes, averaged less than seven yards per attempt and threw at least two interceptions in seven of their 12 games.
"I would say so, yes, especially coming out of spring and knowing all the ball that he played in the fall," Morris told the Dallas Morning News when asked if Hicks is the front-runner. "I expect it to be a great quarterback challenge and controversy going into our first fall camp scrimmage."
The challenge is coming from juniors Rafe Peavey, who sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas, and D.J. Gillins, a JUCO transfer who previously spent two years as a receiver at Wisconsin.
When Sutton announced his return to SMU in 2017, he said, “I’m committed to being the best receiver in college football next year. That’s something I know I can achieve, but it’s not going to be something I’m going to achieve by myself.”
Though Sutton needs the help of Hicks, Peavey or Gillins to have another monster season and chase Emmanuel Sanders' SMU single-season and career receiving records, Embody isn't convinced Sutton's draft stock is dependent on whoever lines up under center.
"Sutton's ability to show off . . . over the middle more and on different routes will depend on quarterbacks being able to deliver accurate balls, but Sutton will have the tape to show to NFL scouts that he's improved his route running. It's really the last part of his game that still needs refining."
Courtland Sutton is also chasing SMU's first first-round draft selection since 1986 and their first-ever first-round selection for a wide receiver. But in a time of constant conference chatter and Group of Five apologists, there should be a lot of attention on Sutton's quest to join Corey Davis in planting another Group of Five stake in NFL Draft history.