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Courtland Sutton ready to lead the Denver Broncos in 2020

Courtland Sutton ready to lead the Denver Broncos in 2020
Credit: USA Today

Despite registering a third consecutive losing season in 2019, there are reasons to be optimistic for Denver Broncos fans. After a breakout season, Courtland Sutton is one of those reasons, and Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) helps show that he is ready to lead the team in 2020.

On the face of it, going 7-9 signifies a failure for most teams. When you consider that the Broncos are just five years removed from a Super Bowl-winning team, that record seems even more dismal.

However, 2019 showed that the Broncos are a team on the up. That 7-9 record? Their best in three years, having gone 5-11 in 2017 and 6-10 in 2018. They finished second in the AFC West, again a step up from fourth in 2017 and third in 2018.

Year by year, the Broncos are getting better and look to be in great shape for 2020.

As the Broncos get better, so does Courtland Sutton

Amongst the turmoil of a quarterback carousel, Sutton had a breakout season for the Broncos in 2019. The standout statistics show that the second-year wide receiver out of SMU had 1,112 receiving yards and six touchdowns, leading the team in both categories.

Denver was happy enough with what they saw in Sutton to allow wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to be traded to the San Francisco 49ers halfway through 2019.

Sutton showcased all the traits that you look for in an elite wide receiver during 2019. He secured highlight-reel touchdown catches against the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers. He preyed on the Broncos’ divisional rivals, securing three of his six touchdowns in 2019 against them.

Sutton brings strength and physicality to the position

He uses his size and physicality to win contested catches and his strength to brutally stiff-arm players whilst making gains on the ground. This was demonstrated in the Week 8 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

It would be easy to say that Sutton’s breakout year was purely courtesy of the opportunity afforded him when Sanders was traded from the Broncos. However, PFN’s OSM focuses on how a player performs with the opportunities he is given using only the factors that he can control, including separation and yards after the catch versus expectation as per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Sutton’s rookie season included encouraging signs about his future

In 2018, Sutton received an OSM grade of 26.12, leaving him ranked 82nd out of 126 qualifying pass catchers. By comparison, his teammates DaeSean Hamilton and Sanders received grades of 33.70 (WR44) and 37.87 (WR12).

Despite finishing last of the qualifying Broncos wide receivers in 2018 by OSM, there were signs that Sutton could become a dominant force in the NFL.

He put together two near-elite games by OSM, with a 37.6 grade (WR12) in Week 9 versus the Houston Texans and a 37.94 grade (WR16) grade versus the Browns.

Sutton also accounted for 27.5% of the Broncos’ targeted air yards. This showed that then starting quarterback Case Keenum had confidence in getting the ball to the Sutton down the field, with an average 14.4 targeted air yards per attempt. It resulted in a rookie campaign that saw Sutton snag 704 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Sutton’s production and OSM grade improve in 2019

Last season, Sutton went from a 2018 grade of 26.12 to a grade of 30.68, from WR92 to WR67. An OSM grade over 30 indicates very good performance. Despite having to adapt to three different quarterbacks, Sutton continued to improve his game.

Within the first three weeks of 2019, Sutton recorded two elite graded games by OSM. In the Week 1 defeat to the Oakland Raiders, he caught seven of eight targets for 120 yards and an OSM grade of 42.45 (WR13). Just two weeks later, he hauled in five of seven targets for 87 yards against the Green Bay Packers, receiving an OSM grade of 41.25 (WR13).

In that game against the Packers, Sutton also showcased his ability to get involved with the dirty side of the receiver position, blocking downfield to help extend a running play. With the addition of Melvin Gordon to a backfield that includes Philip Lindsay, that ability will be extremely valuable to the Broncos in 2020.

Sutton’s improved catch percentage from 2018 to 2019

In 2018, Sutton had a completion percentage of just 50%, ranking 117th out of 126 pass catchers. One year later, he increased that to 58% and improved to 94th out of 125. Sutton’s drop percentage fell from 8.4% to 4% in the span of a year.

And al this was despite a dismal 12.5% catch completion percentage with Brandon Allen under center in the Week 12 loss to the Buffalo Bills. That game had a detrimental impact on Sutton’s overall OSM grade, with a game grade of 10.04 being well below his season average.

The following week, with Drew Lock making his first career start for the Broncos at quarterback, Sutton returned to his early-season form with a catch completion percentage of 80% and an OSM grade of 34.21 (WR23) in the 32-20 win over the Chargers.

Sutton was a YAC monster in 2019

In 2018, Sutton ranked 82nd out of 126 pass catchers in yards after the catch versus expectancy. On average, he was expected to gain 4.5 yards after the catch but only made 4.4 yards, a differential of -0.1 yards. As a result, only 163 yards of his 704 receiving yards came after the catch.

Fast forward a year, and Sutton saw a huge leap to 29th out of 125 pass catchers in the same metric.

Although his yards after the catch expectation stayed the same at 4.4, Sutton averaged 5.2 yards after the catch, a swing in differential of almost one yard per play. It may not sound like much, but in a game that so often comes down to inches, every yard is critical.

Sutton steps up as a leader

Sutton was tasked with providing leadership at the wide receiver position once Denver traded Sanders; he did not disappoint. The Broncos showed their faith in him by not adding any veteran receiving presence in free agency, too. Instead, they chose to support him by drafting Jerry Jeudy to play opposite Sutton with another rookie, K.J. Hamler, expected to play out of the slot.

With Lock now established as the Broncos starting quarterback, and an explosive offense comprised of Noah Fant (OSM grade 33.87 in 2019), Jeudy, Hamler, Lindsay, and Gordon, you can expect another big season from Sutton as he establishes himself as one of the best young wide receivers in the league.

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