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Courtland Sutton joins the ranks of undisputed WR1s

The 2nd year, former 2nd round pick has new expectations on him in the wake of the Emmanuel Sanders trade.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Just as the trade of Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers has implications about the rest of the Broncos’ 2019 season, it carries implications for the players staying in Denver. Of these, Courtland Sutton’s confirmation as the Broncos’ top WR and top overall receiving option is easily the biggest.

That’s not to say it’s anything like a surprise, though. After a respectable rookie year with 704 yards and 4 TDs caught amid struggles with drops, Sutton has already been on a true breakout campaign in his second season. Through 7 games, he’s been on pace for a 1,300 yard season with 7 or so TDs.

It goes way beyond basic stats, though, as Sutton has shown the fruits of a dedication to learning his craft via much improved route running and sharply reduced drops. I say sharply reduced. So far, it’s more accurate to say practically eliminated. And let me emphasize that, because Sutton’s improvement in this area isn’t getting enough attention and appreciation from fans. Where Demaryius Thomas’s drops remained a consistent issue throughout his career, averaging 9 per season in his first four seasons as a full time starter, Sutton had 7 drops as a rookie but has yet to register a dropped pass in 2019.

Tennessee Titans v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Elimination of mistakes and improved route running have led to more opportunities for Sutton, resulting in a team-leading 54 targets through 7 games. That’s 10 more than the next most targeted Bronco- Emmanuel Sanders. And with Sanders’ departure, it’s 23 more targets than the new “#2” receiving option, running back Royce Freeman.

Clearly, as John Elway said yesterday in reference to the Broncos’ WR group, “It’s Courtland’s room now.”

Sutton’s emergence to the point where the Broncos can trade Sanders and hand #14 the WR room is an encouraging sign for a team whose 2018 passing offense practically dried up the instant Sanders’ achilles tore early last December.

Sutton’s emergence as a true #1 WR holds true on the league level as well. Sutton is Football Outsiders’ #10 WR in 2019 by DYAR, and their #15 WR by DVOA. Higher DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, basically means “a wide receiver with more total value”. Whereas higher DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, basically means “a wide receiver with more value per play”. A lot goes into both of those metrics, and they’re some of the best tools available to most fans for quantifying a player’s impact. And by that measure, Sutton’s on a course toward being a top 10 WR in the NFL.

Some more traditional stats & rankings, among the 85 WRs with 20+ targets in 2019:

  • Targets: 54, tied for 13th.
  • Receptions: 36, tied for 12th.
  • Receiving Yards: 564, tied for 6th.
  • Yards per Reception: 15.67, good for 15th.
  • Yards per Game: 80.6, tied for 9th.
  • Yards per Target: 10.44, good for 13th.
  • Touchdowns: 3, tied for 17th.

The game tape, the technique he plays with, and the stats both basic and advanced all point at Sutton establishing himself as a true top receiver in the NFL. What remains is to see when or if he claims a spot among guys like Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, etc.

In speaking of players who will have to step up in the wake of the Sanders trade, John Elway mentioned guys like DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick, who will return off of IR after the team’s Week 10 Bye, as well as the TE group. He also mentioned Sutton in that group, but where the comments were “Hamilton has got to step up” or “These young guys have to step up”, Elway’s words were firm regarding Sutton: “He’s going to step up, too.”

That’s a nice vote of confidence in this young wide receiver, right from the top of the team.

The MHR staff already submitted our “keys to the game” for Sunday’s contest vs the Colts, but if I had mine to do over I’d point right at Sutton. How he responds to his increased leadership role in the offense, and to the increased attention he will absolutely get from opposing defenses going forward, will be very interesting to see. And it will strongly impact how the rest of this season develops.


How would you rate Courtland Sutton at this point?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Top 10 WR in the NFL
    (144 votes)
  • 61%
    Clear #1 WR, but not a top 10 guy.
    (382 votes)
  • 12%
    Fringe #1 WR
    (75 votes)
  • 3%
    #2 WR, probably won’t be able to carry the passing offense.
    (22 votes)
623 votes total Vote Now