Cameron Sutton turned down millions to keep learning at Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Cameron Sutton is crazy.

No, he isn't your everyday daredevil, attempting life-threatening feats. He doesn't wrestle bears or play with venomous snakes.

Sutton is certifiable because Tennessee's senior-to-be turned down millions for another year in Knoxville. Not that Knoxville isn't a lovely place, but Sutton, one of the SEC's top cornerbacks last year, was viewed as a first-round talent, projected as the No. 19 and No. 26 pick, respectively, by ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay in October.

Congrats, Vols, but let's put this in perspective. Former Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes earned a four-year, $12.9 million contract from the Minnesota Vikings as the first corner taken (No. 11 overall) in last year's draft. Sutton probably wasn't going to be drafted that high, but consider that Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson was drafted 16th by the Houston Texans and earned a $10.05 million contract over four years with a $5.6 million signing bonus.

Connecticut's Byron Jones, the final corner taken in last year's first round (No. 27), will earn an average of $2.2 million per year with the Dallas Cowboys.

"It wasn't something I decided overnight," Sutton said with a smile.

But all of that money ... it's so ... beautiful.

"Well, the NFL isn't going anywhere, either," Sutton added

True, but all that money isn't guaranteed to anyone, and Sutton knows full well that one major injury could take it all away. None of that concerned Sutton when he spoke to family, close friends, coaches and teammates about whether he should make the jump to the pros or stick around Tennessee for one last, possibly special, season.

Sutton thought about the fact that he'll earn his degree in December. He thought about how maybe he wasn't a surefire first-round pick and that maybe with another year of work he could cement his place within the first 32 picks. He also thought about how much work he and his teammates had put in over the last three years with coach Butch Jones and how a veteran roster returned in a division full of unknowns. Tennessee could be in for a ride that Sutton didn't want to miss.

"I have the opportunity to up that draft stock and continue to play for such a historic program in my last year," Sutton said. "You think about it a little bit, but at the end of the day you put it into God's hands."

Another factor was the hiring of former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who brings with him a much more aggressive defensive style that should play to Sutton's speedy, athletic traits. Sutton said Shoop's hire wasn't the turning point in his decision, but it certainly helped Tennessee.

What's there not to like about the thought of playing under Shoop? His last five defenses have all ranked inside the top 25, and during that span they recorded 120 turnovers. Last year, Penn State's defense nabbed 26 interceptions. Sutton, who has just six interceptions in his career, should be happy about those numbers.

So far, Shoop is really happy about coaching Sutton. In three months and seven practices on the job, Shoop has found a player who approaches everything in a professional manner, takes "impeccable notes," is "meticulous" with every practice rep and is the first person catching balls on the JUGS machine every day before practice. Shoop spots "elite ball skills" and someone who is exceptional with his back turned to passes.

"He's a pro," Shoop said. "He takes every rep very, very seriously; he doesn't waste a rep. You'll have a hard time finding on film any time he's misaligned or reading an improper key or playing a bad technique."

While Shoop said Sutton could use more work at the nickel corner spot, he admits that there really isn't "anything that [Sutton's] not really, really good at." He also believes that the somewhat soft-spoken Sutton has a bit of a chip on his shoulder in 2016. Sutton might have been viewed as a first-round pick last season, but he was passed by Florida corners Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor as an All-SEC first-team selection. Sutton won't talk about that, but Shoop sees the fire from it.

"He knows he's really, really good, but he's not satisfied," Shoop said.

Away from the field, Sutton doesn't like attention. He'd rather dish and work with his teammates, and that's why it sounds like this truly was a family decision. Individually, he gave up a lot, but for Tennessee's program, he's giving so much.

"It's really our time," Sutton said. "I've seen the good, bad and the ugly [at Tennessee] ... but it's time to take it to another level here. A big part of that is my leadership."