Sutton didn’t defer to anyone, didn’t pretend about anything and didn’t hide from his aspirations.
“You can’t go into a game and have one or two catches. You have to go into a game and be ‘that guy’ every day. That is something that I know, and I accept that role. I’m looking forward to being … a guy that gets the seven- or eight-plus targets going into the game and knowing that I’m getting those — being able to make seven or eight-plus catches at minimum, hopefully going into the game and being that guy.”
That was before Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders had an on-field fight during a training camp practice in July with Sanders yelling “you ain’t done s— in this league.” It was before the Broncos offense stumbled out of the gate with 16 or fewer points in five of their first seven games. And it was before a frustrated Sanders was traded to the San Francisco 49ers this week.
And now Sutton is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver for the Broncos.
“He’s natural at all that stuff, from Day 1,” pass-rusher Von Miller said. ” … It’s really nothing we have talked about, it’s been his spot for a while now … he embraces that role, he walks in, he’s always positive, he calls everybody by their first name — chef, janitors no matter who it is. He has some great leadership qualities that I saw in 18 [Peyton Manning]. Nobody told him to do any of that stuff, he’s just natural at it. He’s already off on the right foot, just have to keep watering that plant.”
But quarterback Joe Flacco said this week that’s how he’s looked at Sutton all along. Sutton and Sanders played in each of the Broncos’ first seven games and it is Sutton who is the only Broncos’ receiver to have been targeted at least seven times in all seven games.
Sutton leads the team in catches (36), yards receiving (564), yards per catch (15.7) and receiving touchdowns (three).
“It’s not about just being a one,” Flacco said. “You either are or you aren’t based on how talented you are, what kinds of things you can do on the field and how much of a gamer you are. Courtland is obviously that guy. Nothing is really going to change for him. He’s just going to have to keep going out there and do what he’s been doing.”
Sanders had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and was named to the two Pro Bowls with the Broncos. So while Sanders had dealt with thigh and knee injuries over the season’s first seven weeks — he did play in every game, but left the Titans game at halftime with what was announced as a knee injury — his departure leaves a gap in the Broncos’ offense.
It’s a gap Sutton can fill, but his impact will be limited if opposing defense’s can simply put their best cornerback on him and disperse the rest of the defensive backs across the formation.
“Nothing is really going to change for me, I go to work every single day,” Sutton said. “I go out there and I put my best foot forward when I step on the field. Like I said, no matter where I was on the depth chart, it didn’t matter to me. I was going to go out there and put my best foot forward and that’s what is going to continue to happen right now.”
DaeSean Hamilton, who like Sutton was selected in the 2018 draft, will have to do far more. As will rookie tight end Noah Fant, who has shown his elite athleticism to get open thus far, but also leads the team with three dropped passes — all of those against the Kansas City Chiefs last Thursday night.
“That’s what I came into the NFL for,” Hamilton said. “If somebody is not ready for an opportunity like this, then I don’t know why they’re even in the NFL or what they’re even playing for. This is something that people look forward to. This is what many people wish they could do. It shouldn’t even be a question whether I’m ready. At this point the question is, ‘How fast can I get started.'”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio thinks Sutton is ready, both in the offense and in the locker room.
“I don’t think it’s hard [to step into a leadership role],” Fangio said. “It’s just that some guys aren’t that guy. Great players aren’t all vocal great leaders for everybody else. I think it’s each individual has their own makeup. I do think Courtland can be that type of guy. Like I said, not only for that position group, but for the entire team.”