‘I’m committed to being the best wide receiver in college football next season.’ Courtland Sutton puts off NFL, returns to SMU

SMU WR Courtland Sutton (16) gets ready to catch a pass in SMU's Sept. 17, 2016 game vs. Liberty. Photo credit: Mollie Mayfield

Courtland Sutton admitted NFL paychecks sound really nice. But not at the expense of leaving his goals at SMU incomplete.

Sutton, SMU’s star wide receiver, announced Wednesday he will be returning to SMU for the 2017 season instead of declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft. The main reason? “Unfinished business.”

“I don’t expect anything less than for us to be competing for a conference championship and playing in a really big bowl,” Sutton said.

The decision to return is about personal goals too.

“I’m committed to being the best receiver in college football next year,” he said. “That’s something I know I can achieve, but it’s not going to be something I’m going to achieve by myself.”

Sutton will also graduate from SMU in December.

Part of that commitment is focusing on football year-round, so those hoping to see him on the court at Moody Coliseum will be disappointed. Sutton said he will not be joining SMU’s basketball team, which he did last season.

“I’ll be out there at 5 a.m., getting my runs in, getting my lifts,” Sutton said. “I’m going to be a football player 100 percent.”

SMU head coach Chad Morris and wide receivers coach Justin Stepp flew to Sutton’s hometown of Brenham, Texas last week to discuss the decision. The goal wasn’t to sway him one way or another, but to present him with all the information he needed to make the decision.

“It’s my job as his head coach to provide him with all the facts,” Morris said.

Morris said he studied the last 10 NFL Drafts and found than an average of four wide receivers were selected in the first round. Sutton’s stock as a first-round pick was far from certain. Some draft analysts and scouts ranked Sutton among the top five players at his position, while others pegged him as a third day selection if he were to declare. Sutton said he also paid attention to other receivers who declared for the draft.

“One thing sitting down to talk to Coach Morris about was that coming back for this next year is only going to solidify my spot,” Sutton said. “I won’t have to worry about the ‘ifs’ next year. Next year, once I’m able to get another year under my belt, to mature a little bit more, that’s going to only help my stock be solidified as a top pick.”

Morris said Sutton has the traits to be as good as one receiver he recruited and coached at Clemson who’s strongly in consideration to be the first receiver taken in this May’s draft.

“This guy has all the intangibles, all the measurables, to be a Mike Williams, a top-15 pick,” Morris said.

“He understands he’s got to get bigger, got to get stronger, he’s got to work on his route running and his defensive recognition.”

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Sutton caught 76 passes for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, all team-highs. The 1,246 yards were the third-most in school history. He was a first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection. In 2015, he led all first-year wide receivers with nine touchdown catches and was named to USA Today Sports’ Freshman All-America team.

SMU increased its win total from two in 2015 to five in 2016, among them a 38-16 victory over then-No. 11 Houston. Along with Sutton, SMU returns all its other wide receivers and important players from an offense that improved through the course of the season despite some key injuries. It’s a big reason why Sutton has such high expectations for himself and his team next season, which will be Morris’ third at SMU.

“People who are close to our program, people who get to see how we go about things day to day see the progress that has been made,” Sutton said. “I hope they’re as excited as we are, because we know what we have and what we’re capable of. As Coach Morris says, we’re still in our growth stage. We don’t plan on plateauing anytime soon.”

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