The Denver Broncos entered this year’s training camp with wide receiver as one of the biggest bright spots on the team. Alas, the Broncos lost Tim Patrick for the season with an Achilles injury and K.J. Hamler was waived (procedurally) due to an unexpected heart issue.
Now more than ever, the Broncos are going to need Courtland Sutton to step up and play a focal role in their offense this season. The 2023 campaign will be the sixth in Sutton’s career — and in my opinion — it will be the most important for him yet.
After a Pro-Bowl campaign in 2019, Sutton missed the entire 2020 campaign after tearing his ACL in the first game of the year. The Broncos’ quarterback carousel didn’t help his statistics in 2021 and 2022, but four touchdowns and a shade over 1,500 receiving yards the combined over that time frame isn’t the production fans were expecting after he signed his lucrative contract extension.
His name came up a ton over the offseason as someone the team could have traded, but that never transpired. Hindsight is always 20/20, but with Patrick and Hamler out, it’s a good thing they didn’t trade him.
That’s a silver-lining thought for now. But the bottom line is this — he has to perform at a high level in 2023 to remain with the squad next season. Let’s take a deeper dive into Sutton’s situation and some expectations for this year.
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 216 pounds | Age: 27 years old | Experience: 6th Season
Sutton played in 15 games with 64 catches (on 109 targets) for 829 yards and two touchdowns.
How does Courtland Sutton fit with the Denver Broncos?
Sutton, like in years past, will be spending a lot of time at the X position for the Broncos this coming season. After all, that’s the prototypical role for a player with his size and catch radius. Head Coach Sean Payton is pleased with Sutton’s progress to date in camp and spoke highly about him after yesterday’s practice.
“I feel like he’s transitioning well. I think he’s running well. I feel his strength. We watched a number of seasons on a few of these players. If you just watch one season, you might have a set opinion.” stated Payton.
But as I mentioned earlier, Sutton hasn’t reached the previous heights we saw when he embarked on his 2019 Pro-Bowl campaign. That’s something Payton is cognizant of and hopes to see more of for Denver this season.
“When we watched him in 2019, for instance, it was really impressive. We talked to him about some of the things we saw him do. Fortunately, we’ve seen some of that in this camp, so we’ll keep going.”
Sutton is a quality route runner who can get himself open against any coverage. He is also well-known for coming up with some pretty spectacular grabs—a hallmark of his since his college days at SMU. However, I’d like to see improvement relative to his overall catch rate and being more consistent on those 50-50 balls.
The league average catch rate in 2022 was just over 63-percent. That’s on par with what we have seen in recent years. Unfortunately, there has never been a point in his career where he has had over a 60-percent catch rate. That mark is well below average and much lower compared to similar players with starting roles on their squads.
Utilization in the deep game (low percentage throws) and errant accuracy from QBs are partly to blame, but I’d like to see Sutton revive the aggressiveness we saw in 2019 and use that to come down with more receptions—especially on contested catches. He has to win in those matchups and needs to be more consistent coming down with the ball.
Big time players make big plays in big games. And I’m looking forward to Sutton doing that for the Broncos in 2023.
The Broncos need Sutton to have a big season in order for their offense to be as successful as possible. Every fan across Broncos Country is hoping for that.
In turn, Sutton has to be productive and turn things around for his own benefit. I’m optimistic he will get back on track, but I’m also a realist. If he fails to impress, it will likely be his last season in the Mile High City.
Denver has the option to get out of his deal after year’s end. I’m willing to bet Payton and the Broncos have a goal in mind for him this year and he fails to achieve that—for whatever reason—I would expect them to part ways.
Here is to hoping Sutton has the best year of his career yet and sticks around for a while.