BRONCOS

“Rockstar” wideout Courtland Sutton is on pace for a career year

Sep 29, 2022, 6:36 AM
Courtland Sutton...
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown for 743 yards and only two touchdowns on the season; disappointing numbers that rightly concern a fan base desperate for a return to the playoffs after more than half a decade of empty promises. Wilson’s likely to return to form as the season progresses, but while most of the Broncos’ offense remains stuck in neutral, wide receiver Courtland Sutton’s off to the best start of his now five-year career.

Sutton, set to turn 27 next month, has his fingerprints all over the NFL leaderboards at his position. His 291 receiving yards ranks fifth in the NFL, and his big-play capability has been on clear display; only Miami’s highlight-reel machine Tyreek Hill has more receptions of 20-or-more yards than Sutton’s five. Sutton’s robust 15.3 yards per reception exceeds even Hill, however, and ranks third among receivers with 19 or more catches on the season.

“I think Courtland Sutton is a rockstar,” Wilson said on Wednesday. “This guy is special — with how he goes and attacks the football, how he makes plays, how he’s so focused in the meetings, how he leads guys. He’s great in the weight room. This guy is doing everything that he can just to be phenomenal — and he already is.”

He’s certainly been Wilson’s top target. While Wilson’s had success checking down to running backs Javonte Williams (15 receptions) and Melvin Gordon III (eight), no Broncos tight end has more than a pair of catches, and among wide receivers, the disparity in production has been nothing less than shocking. After a promising Monday night of four receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s Week 1 road loss in Seattle, third-year receiver Jerry Jeudy’s only mustered three catches for 28 yards since. Only two other wideouts have even caught passes at all — Tyrie Cleveland and Kendall Hinton have two apiece — but Sutton keeps on rolling.

Sutton, however, has already caught 19 passes (30.1 percent) out of Wilson’s 63 completions on the season. Given that Wilson’s connected with nine other pass-catchers on the season, that number looks even more remarkable. Opposing teams know that the 6’4″ Sutton will get plenty of targets, but defenders still can’t seem to stop him.

“First and foremost, you just take those natural one-on-one battles that he’s able to win,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett said on Wednesday. “When you can just put the ball up — we saw one that he got down to the five-yard line last week — that’s just Courtland being Courtland, and Russell giving [him] a good ball. That’s just so hard to defend.”

It shows. Sutton’s 67.9 percent catch rate is, by far, the best of his career, and Hackett is already altering his offense to ensure that the SMU product can’t easily be neutralized.

“We tried to move (defenders) around. We tried to do different things with them. We just don’t want to keep them at one spot so they can track him and find him,” Hackett explained. “We’ve had a nice little route tree for him, and a lot of different things that he does. I don’t know exactly how it was last year, but for us, we just want him to be as multiple as he can be.”

Sutton made the Pro Bowl following the 2019 season, when he had 72 catches and 1,112 yards in his only 1,000-yard receiving campaign. It’s only been three games, of course, but he’s on pace for 108 receptions and a whopping 1,649 yards receiving; an illustration of just how good he’s been thus far in 2022.

Wilson and Hackett have both spoken confidently about their offense rounding into form, and Sutton shares those sentiments.

“We know that the production will get there, and the talent is there, as well. It’s just all about us having 11 people do their jobs to the fullest and being able to execute,” Sutton said after Sunday’s win over San Francisco. “When we were able to get the 11 guys to execute, we were able to move the ball efficiently. That’s the biggest thing for us — to be able to find that and then be… able to do that at a high level consistently. I feel like once that happens, that’s when people are going to see what that side of our offense really is.”

In a season where the Broncos have had to scratch and claw for wins in two of their past three games, Sunday’s matchup in Las Vegas looms as an extraordinary opportunity to bury the rival Raiders at 0-4 — all but a death sentence for the silver and black’s playoff hopes — and at least keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs atop the AFC West.

The Broncos need more from Jeudy, more from Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end, and hopefully anything from oft-injured speedster K.J. Hamler. In truth, they need more from Wilson than they’ve gotten, as well, but at least their top receiver is hitting on all cylinders, with no sign that he’s going to stop anytime soon.

“The sky is the limit for him. He’s got so much capability,” Wilson said. “I think people need to know who Courtland Sutton is — and they’re starting to recognize how special he really is.”

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“Rockstar” wideout Courtland Sutton is on pace for a career year