BRONCOS

Courtland Sutton is the early favorite to be Russell Wilson’s top target

May 24, 2022, 6:40 AM
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 1: Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos is congratulated by fans after ...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos had practice opened to the media on Monday. I was there with bells on to take notes and see what the team looked like as offseason installation continues. The offseason installation is mostly individual drills, but there are some things to take away from those drills. The team drills, while at a lower rate than individual drills, are really where the gold is at.

For the first time, we got to see the rookie class integrated with the veterans on the roster. We got to see how the team is looking at the infancy stages of their development. The installation has been going on all offseason, but now it’s time to take what you’ve learned and implement it on the field.

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett was overjoyed after practice.

“What a fun day of practice. Good to be back out here and actually doing football,” Hackett said.

Here are my three biggest observations (and some notes) from Monday’s practice.

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Is Meinerz a Starter?

It was interesting to note that last week when Quinn Meinerz talked to the media, he was non-committal about where he would be playing this season. As I wrote about over the weekend, Meinerz had this air of mystery around him when it came to his actual position. He can start at three different positions on the offensive line, but until today nobody really knew which position was his best spot.

That was revealed right away as Meinerz was getting some first-team snaps at right guard. I believe that’s a good spot for him, but Meinerz must prove he can play and be trusted at that spot. He’s strong and certianly moves well for a big man, but the Broncos are not just going to hand the job over to the second-year guard.

Meinerz has come a long way from working out in the Canadian wilderness before the draft. Even though he may not be “The Belly” anymore after losing weight, Meinerz has impressed the new coaching staff so much so that he’s getting a golden opportunity to cement a starting job before the regular season. It’s early, but it’s a good sign that he’s out there with the first team in May.

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Sutton the Favorite

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but Courtland Sutton looks like the favorite target for Russell Wilson as the offseason workouts continue. I’ve seen almost every pass from Wilson this offseason – sorry, I’m kind of fixated on the guy – and he seems to prefer throwing to Sutton.

Wilson is going to cook this year in the Hackett offense that will be customized for him. Sutton could be the beneficiary of the system, and I’d put him as the projected leader for targets on this team. Wilson wants to fill the air with footballs, and I think he could be a league MVP candidate running such a system. If Wilson reaches those heights, there’s no doubt the players in the passing game will be posting career-best numbers. Sutton has always flashed talent, but a knee injury in 2020 has slowed his career – and catching passes from below average quarterbacks didn’t help. Now, Sutton can truly shine with Wilson tossing him the rock.

I still believe Sutton was a steal in the draft, and he’s got the ability to be a perennial Pro Bowl receiver in this league if he stays healthy. He’s big and always open when you throw up a pass that is “above the rim” because of his length and leaping ability. Wilson loves to take deep shots, and he seems to have established a groove with Sutton.

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Simmons Sensational

There is no doubt that I love Justin Simmons – and I always have. When he came out of Boston College, I thought he would be a second-round pick. The Broncos scooped him up in the third round, and Simmons has been the consummate pro. The team rewarded him with a big contract last offseason in a great move that signals how much of a cornerstone player he is for Denver.

Simmons is looking better than ever under this new regime. He’s a leader to be sure, and the young players on this roster all look up to him for his natural talent and high football intelligence. Simmons looks good when going after passes in the air. He’s rarely going to be fooled by a quarterback’s eyes, and Simmons moves to the pass like a wide receiver would. Seeing him against Wilson in minicamp and training camp later this summer is going to be a treat. Simmons is always around the ball, and I think he could set career highs in interceptions this season.

This defense is going to have more teeth than they did under Vic Fangio. I say this with all due respect, especially because Fangio has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, but Evero’s defense just looks better. Fangio has a great system, but he didn’t connect with Broncos defenders and didn’t seem to utilize his defenders the right way. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Evero.

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Notes

Wilson is going to change a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage. It will remind Broncos fans of when Peyton Manning had wild hand gestures to mix things up and throw defenses off. Wilson’s gestures are more subtle, but they are there.

Melvin Gordon was not at voluntary workouts today. He never shows up to voluntary workouts, but I thought this was an interesting move – and a mistake – by the veteran running back. He said his dream was to play with Wilson again yet he’s not here. Gordon was on the free agent market for quite some time and outside of the Baltimore Ravens there was not a lot of interest in his services. You’d think that alone would prompt him to show up to OTAs.

Javonte Williams can be a better receiver out of the backfield than some think. Williams impressed with his hands and concentration on Monday. Of course, he can’t run over people in practice, so the best part of his game is something we’ll have to wait to see again. I didn’t think the team needed to bring Gordon back, mainly because I believe in Williams to be a three-down back in the NFL. Oh well, hopefully this backfield rotation will keep Williams fresh for the postseason.

There are some tough decisions coming up for Broncos general manager George Paton. I like what I see from the tight end position, but that spot may be crunched by the number of wide receivers on this roster who could make the 53-man roster. When I see 2022 fifth-round pick Montrell Washington catches passes, I know the team likes him as more than just a return man which pretty much cements him a spot. If Denver keeps six receivers, then a talented tight end may hit the open market.

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Courtland Sutton is the early favorite to be Russell Wilson’s top target