Sutton’s NFL Draft journey has seen him battle through adversity to find success
A standout career at Appalachian State hasn’t come easy for Sutton. While the family ties to the program made them a natural landing spot as he came out of Mallard Creek, his father helped him make the decision to commit to Kansas State. Statistically, it wasn’t a productive season, and he’d transfer away from the Wildcats after just one year. However, that adversity helped fuel his later success for the Mountaineers.
“That year at Kansas State was actually a great opportunity and a great learning experience. A lot of people know that playing as a true freshman is rare, and playing at Kansas State as a freshman is even more rare. I was glad that I was able to come in and learn. Getting catches against Oklahoma and Texas showed me that I could compete at a high level. The stats didn’t show the practice work and game experience that I was able to get.”
A difficult transfer portal experience, where Kansas State initially appeared to grant Sutton his release before making it difficult for him to leave, ultimately led to changes in NCAA regulations. But in 2017, the now-Appalachian State WR had to spend a season on the sidelines. Although he could have started immediately on talent alone, that year helped fine-tune a dangerous pass-catching weapon.
“You could be frustrated about that, but I used every day to get better. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were my game days. I would look at their [the team they would face that week] best receiver and mimic what he does and put some of my own stuff on it. Some of the guys would joke and say, ‘the best receiver that we faced all year was Corey.’ I got Scout Team Player of the Year, took it really seriously, and that year elevated my game, fine-tuned myself for that whole year.”
Injury impacts Sutton’s journey to the NFL Draft
Sutton’s play during his first two seasons with Appalachian State helped him establish himself as one of the premier playmakers in the nation. The hard work through his redshirt year had paid off with a string of highlight-reel plays and impressive statistics. Then, in a late November game against Texas State, his immediate football future changed.
“I never injured something in that way. A ligament is a different feeling. I’d caught the ball, made somebody miss, made somebody else miss, and then there was a big guy coming. As soon as I did it, all my attention was like, ‘oh no, something bad just happened.’ I knew it was bad, but I tried to walk it off. I learned soon after that it was the ACL.”
The ACL injury ended his 2019 campaign, and although he tried to come back to training camp ahead of the disrupted 2020 season, Sutton knew that the knee wasn’t right yet. He opted to sit out the season, a difficult decision to make at the time and one that proved harder to live with as the season unfolded.
“It was a difficult decision, but I felt like the best decision was to get fully healthy. It was really hard watching the guys on TV. The hardest thing was watching games like Marshall and Coastal where they came down to like the last drive or like three points, and I felt like I would be the person to convert. I felt really bad because the team needed me and I wasn’t there to finish on those type of things.”
Sutton finishes strong ahead of the NFL Draft
Returning for the 2021 season, Sutton helped take Appalachian State over the top in the games against Marshall and Coastal. In the win over the Thundering Herd, his toe-drag-swag touchdown — something he’s become known for during his college career — helped seal the win that the Mountaineers were so close to without him in 2020.
He established himself as one of the leading receivers in the nation. Ending the year with a career-high 904 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, he tallied four 100+ yard games. Having not been satisfied with second-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2018 and 2019, he finally accomplished first-team accolades.
More importantly for his NFL Draft aspirations, Sutton earned an invite to the NFLPA Bowl in Pasadena. Describing it as an “awesome week,” the Appalachian State wide receiver was enthused about the opportunity to work under a coaching staff led by former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis while talking with current and former NFL pass catchers like Steve Smith, who had some advice for the young wide receiver.
“Steve Smith? You know how he is,” Sutton laughs. “You know how he talks. He’s a real dog and a real dominant guy. He likes to cuss and joke around. He was like, ‘man, I don’t care who’s in front of me, I’m gonna do this to them.’ But he was also talking about some of the things to expect and some of the Xs and Os.”
A physical pass catcher with the NFL Draft in his sight
In some respects, despite their difference in stature, Sutton and Smith share some similarities. Both are physical pass catchers who aren’t afraid to go into battle at the catch point. The Appalachian State WR points to his ability to fight through the catch point alongside his releases as the reason why he’s attracted the moniker of “Most Dangerous Deep Threat” in the Sun Belt. It’s not hard to see his football inspirations in his game.
“Right now, I like to look at a lot of Davante Adams and Calvin Ridley. I look at Davante for his releases and stuff. I look at Calvin for his knee drive and the way he uses his speed in and out of his cuts. Growing up, I looked at Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, even guys like Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin.”
As the Adams trade shakes up the NFL Draft landscape, the Green Bay Packers could use a tall, physical, deep threat at the wide receiver position. Whether they’re one of the multiple teams involved in conversation right now with Sutton remains a mystery. Still, there’s no mystery about what the Appalachian State WR brings to the football field. Later this week, he’ll find out where the next stage on his journey will take him.
“A lot of hard work will have come to the forefront for me to have an opportunity to keep playing the game. It would be a token to show for the hard work. There’s little things to hang my hat on so far, but I haven’t gotten what I’ve been aiming for. Hearing my name called, it’ll be the start of a new journey, and I’m ready for that day for sure.”
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