Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton's decision to return to ASU wasn't only best for the team, but also the right decision for him.
Sutton had the entire Sun Devil nation on edge on Tuesday, January 8. It was on this day that Sutton announced he would be returning to Arizona State for his senior season. The news spread across Tempe like wildfire, and expectations for 2013 immediately rose.
While Sun Devil fans were happy Sutton decided to return, the question of whether this was right for him still remained.
He's had injury problems over the past year, and another injury would really damage his draft stock. What if his senior season isn't as productive?
While these concerns are legitimate, Sutton did indeed make the right choice to come back to the Maroon and Gold. Sutton's questionable draft stock, his position as a role model and the opportunity to be a part of something special in 2013 all make returning the right choice.
Questionable Draft Stock
Sutton exploded onto the scene in 2012. His breakout season garnered him national attention, and many thought he would leave ASU early to declare for the NFL draft.
As Dan Greenspan of NFL.com writes, the NFL Draft advisory committee predicted Sutton as a fifth-round pick. This is something head coach Todd Graham says comes from lack of a track record:
I think that had a lot to do with the fact that he wasn't even honorable mention all-conference the year before, so not many people knew much about him. He's better than he was last fall. I think he's going to have a dominant season.
It makes sense Sutton would return to ASU if he were going to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. While these projections aren't set in stone, it is highly unlikely he would have gone anywhere higher than the third round. But if what Coach Graham says is true, and Sutton is even better this year, he will be climbing up draft boards quickly in 2013.
Sutton's size has also been a concern for NFL scouts, but the defensive end is trying to fix that for his senior season. Sutton can't get taller, but according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated he has put on weight:
If that comparison is accurate, then Sutton should have a senior season to remember.
Last year Sutton was projected to be a late-round pick, but after his senior season he could be a first-rounder.
Position as a Role Model
The past decade of sports has been covered by a haze of lies, PED's and run-ins with the law. Will Sutton be a role model for young athletes?
Sutton rose to national prominence quickly last season, becoming what some consider to be the best defensive lineman other than Jadeveon Clowney coming into this year.
A rise to the national spotlight isn't easy to handle. Just ask Johnny Manziel.
ESPN recently released a story on Johnny Football where his parents essentially say Manziel has a drinking problem stemming from all the pressure he is under. No such issues with Sutton.
While it may be unfair to compare these two players, they have lived similar lives over the past year. Before last year, Sutton could have walked around anywhere in Phoenix or Tempe without anybody knowing who he was. That isn't the case anymore.
Not only has Sutton handled himself well off the field, but he also plays the game the right way as well.
According to Doug Haller of AZ Central Sports, ASU co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph says Sutton's best attribute may be his toughness:
Just look at the Arizona game. His toe, his ankle, you name it, everything’s hurt. I go over to talk with him about it, and he has tears in his eyes. He says, ‘Coach, we’re winning this game, and I’m not missing it.’ And that’s what he did, playing in pain. That’s toughness.
Sutton's decision to return only makes him more of a role model because he turned down a payday to help out his school and get a degree.
The Chance to be a Part of Something Special
Will Sutton and the entire Sun Devil team have a chance to win a Pac-12 Championship in 2013. This wouldn't be possible if Sutton had left for the NFL.
If Sutton had left, not only would there be a giant hole to fill on the defensive line, but also one in the locker room.
Sutton is becoming the face of ASU football and knows this team can accomplish something special this year. He said it himself at Pac-12 Media Day (h/t SB Nation):
I love my teammates, the coaching staff and the atmosphere around here. We want to accomplish something that once again hasn't been done here before and I want to be part of that.
Sutton's decision to stay was the right move for him to make because instead of being at an NFL training camp hoping to be a backup lineman, he is the face of Sun Devil football and one of the best linemen in the collegiate game.
ASU's championship hopes rest a lot on his big 288-pound frame.
In the end, Will Sutton would have been drafted if he had declared last January. His decision to return, however, shows the kind of character he has and the will he has to take ASU to the next level.
That's what makes his decision the right one.