Questioning Courtland Sutton
By Isuf Gega
The questions for the Denver Broncos are endless. After signing stud running back Melvin Gordon to a two-year deal, Denver proceeded in drafting arguably the best wide receiver to come out of college in the last half decade, Jerry Jeudy. They followed that up with drafting wide receiver KJ Hamler with their very next pick in the second round. Furthermore, tight end Noah Fant is only going to improve in his second year in the league. This surrounds Sutton with a plethora of questions. How will the signing of superior pass catching back Melvin Gordon affect Sutton? Will Jerry Jeudy and the emergence of Noah Fant cut into Sutton’s target share? Can Sutton consistently finish top 20 with Drew Lock as his quarterback?
How will the signing of superior pass catching back Melvin Gordon affect Sutton?
Vic Fangio has not had any prior experience being a head coach, but in 2019 the Denver Broncos gave him an opportunity. Even though there is not a lot of head coaching history, Fangio’s 2019 season says a lot about how his running backs will be used. In Fangio’s first year, Denver’s rushing attempts per game were in the top half of the league and running backs saw a 23% target share, good enough to finish 9th on the season. While the running backs were made a priority, the receivers were not. The Broncos finished in the bottom 5 in passing yards per game. It’s clear that Fangio wants his offense to flow through the running backs and the offseason addition of Melvin Gordon only solidifies that statement.
Since 2017, Gordon has consistently finished top-12 in average targets per game with 5.2 targets in 2017, followed by 5.5 targets in 2018, and 4.6 targets in 2019. He demands targets and in Fangio’s offense he will certainly get that. Not only is Gordon an improvement as the pass catching running back, he is also dominant as a goal line back. In 2019, Gordon was top-10 in the league with 8 touchdowns inside the red zone. Gordon’s success rate of 27% was good enough to be top-5 amongst running backs that had at least 30 red zone attempts. Keep in mind, Gordon only played weeks 5-17 due to a contract hold out and still finished inside the top-10 for red zone touchdowns. Phillip Lindsay only had 5 touchdowns with an 18% success rate and Royce Freeman only had 3 touchdowns with a 12% success rate. Denver was unable to run the ball into the end zone, which is why Sutton received so many targets. That is all going to change with the addition of Melvin Gordon.
Will Jerry Jeudy and the emergence of Noah Fant cut into Sutton’s target share?
Sutton had a target share of 26%, which is amongst the highest in the league. Melvin Gordon will do a good job in lowering that and so will Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy was selected 15th overall by the Broncos, even though Sutton just had a breakout year. Jeudy’s route running ability allows him to be phenomenal after the catch -- and his tempo, speed, and quickness are going to give any defense a difficult time. Jeudy will without question be the primary slot receiver on day 1 and will end up being a safety valve for Drew Lock along with Noah Fant.
Fant finished the season as the TE16 with 562 yard and 3 touchdowns from 40 receptions. Fant had two excellent games with over 100 receiving yards and one came with Drew Lock as his quarterback. He is a true receiving tight end. Fant’s speed and size allow him to blow by defensive backs or make the contested catch over them. Fant led all tight ends in 2019 with 8.3 yards after the catch per reception. The only reason his number do not look better is simply because the opportunity was not there for him. Fant and Jeudy are both Fangio’s first round picks while Sutton was actually never drafted by the head coach and was part of the old regime. That does not mean that Sutton is going to be traded, it just means that Fangio might have different plans after drafting two rookie wide receivers in the top-2 rounds of the 2020 draft.
Can Sutton consistently finish top 20 with Drew Lock?
Courtland Sutton was selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft and was expected to be the Demaryius Thomas replacement. After a decent rookie year, 704 yards and 4 touchdowns from 42 receptions, Sutton tore it up his second year. In 2019, Sutton finished with over 1,100 yards and 6 touchdowns on 72 receptions...good enough to make him the WR19 on the season. Sutton finished off the year as a top-5 wide receiver in endzone targets with 14.
However, that dominant 2019 season came with 3 different quarterbacks and Sutton was awful...yes awful...with Drew Lock. In the 5 games they played together, Sutton finished outside of the WR36 four out of five games. The Broncos played some horrible defenses during that stretch too that included the Chargers, Texans, Lions, and Raiders. The Chargers defense finished 27th in fantasy points, Texans finished 22nd, Lions finished 30th, and the Raiders defense finished 28th in fantasy points. These defenses were horrible and Sutton and Lock had very little to no connection. The worst part of it all is that the Broncos actually won 4 out of those 5 games, only losing to the Chiefs. The Broncos were winning without much involvement from their stud wide receiver. It does not mean the chemistry cannot grow between them, but it does raise a lot of questions.
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