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Are Broncos Using Courtland Sutton Correctly?

  • The Draft Network
  • December 6, 2021
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The Denver Broncos experienced the ultimate letdown on Sunday, being defeated by Patrick Mahomes and their AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs to the disappointing tune of 22-9. Denver's offense struggled to find the end zone against a shockingly improved Chiefs defense and didn't score their lone touchdown of the contest until the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. The loss drops the Broncos to 6-6 on the year and they now reside in last place in their ultra-competitive division. Sunday's no-show served as a disheartening follow-up to their dominant Week 12 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Denver's cast of offensive weapons is far too talented for such struggling offensive showings. Star wide receiver Courtland Sutton largely served as an afterthought on Sunday night, securing just two-of-six targets for a measly 15 receiving yards. It was an unfortunate performance that was eerily similar to his two-catch, 17-yard output in Week 12 against the Chargers. Sutton's lack of involvement directly coincides with Jerry Jeudy's return to the lineup, and that's where things get interesting. 

Expanding our research all the way back to Week 7, when Jeudy came back from a six-week absence due to a high-ankle sprain, Sutton has peculiarly been uninvolved in Denver's offense. Sutton has seen just 18 targets in five contests since Jeudy’s return, which equates to just 3.6 targets per game. It's far too few opportunities for a dominant outside receiver that is fully capable of eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving mark. For comparative purposes, Jeudy has received a healthy six targets per game throughout the same five-week timeframe.

There’s no denying that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is struggling to feed both of his talented outside receivers and that Jeudy's comeback has directly impacted Sutton's target share in a negative fashion. When Jeudy was rehabbing his ankle injury and on the sidelines, Sutton averaged an astounding nine targets per game, including three games that surpassed 10 targets each. It represents nearly triple (!) the number of targets Sutton has seen since Jeudy returned. Including Week 1 in our sample size, prior to Jeudy’s injury, Sutton has been the beneficiary of just 3.5 targets per match with Jeudy by his side, and nine targets per output when serving as Denver's clear-cut No. 1 receiver. It's a stark change of circumstance for Sutton. Denver’s offense lacks a high-end quarterback and Shurmur prefers to utilize a run-heavy approach—there simply aren't enough targets to go around.

General manager George Paton inherited a terrific cast of young offensive playmakers that included Sutton, Jeudy, Noah Fant, and Tim Patrick. Paton added to the overall strength of the group by drafting rookie running back Javonte Williams, who looks like a superstar in the making. Paton may not have drafted the likes of Sutton, Jeudy, and Patrick, but he's determined to keep them together in hopes of luring a legitimate franchise quarterback in the near future. Paton recently awarded both Sutton and Patrick with healthy contract extensions that will keep both players in Denver for the foreseeable future. Jeudy is in year two of a rookie four-year contract that contains a fifth-year option. Together they make up an uber-talented band of receivers.

It all feels like a waste if head coach Vic Fangio, offensive coordinator Shurmur, and starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can't find a way to get all of their impressive pass-catchers more involved in the offense down the stretch. It could also lead to their demise, as Paton could look to bring in "his guy" at the head coaching position for 2022.

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