Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are battling for the WR1 spot in the Denver Broncos offense this season. Barring a training camp injury, both will be fully healthy with the chance to win over new Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson as his new top target in Denver.
Regardless of who takes the top spot in 2022, the Broncos will have one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches at receiver. Sutton was fantastic in 2019, quarterback Drew Lock’s rookie season, before an injury hampered his production in 2020. Jeudy showed plenty of potential in his 2020 rookie season, finishing as the Broncos’ receiving leader in Sutton’s absence. Last year’s performances from each young receiver didn’t bring any more clarity to the battle between the two of them for that No. 1 spot.
Though Sutton finished the 2021 season as Denver’s top receiver, his 776 receiving yards and two touchdowns paled in comparison to the 1,112 yards and six scores he had in 2019. Meanwhile, Jeudy, like Sutton, was unable to build on the success of his best year thanks to some bad injury luck that kept him out of seven games in 2021.
This year, they’ll both have a great chance to elevate their game to the next level with Wilson as their quarterback, a significant upgrade over both Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. Fellow receiver Tim Patrick’s devastating ACL tear in training camp also means the Broncos will have to lean more heavily on both Sutton and Jeudy. But heading into the 2022 regular season, who has the edge?
Sutton is the more experienced receiver with a couple of extra years on his NFL résumé and has the bigger frame at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds. He’s good in contested-catch situations and his great footwork allows him to get open and stay open. So far, he’s always been the top receiver in the offense when he’s stayed on the field, and his more veteran status could give him the upper hand.
On the other hand, Jeudy has the most promise as the younger guy and former first-round pick. He’s got great speed and quick footwork that can allow him to break open downfield for huge chunks of yardage. As a rookie, Jeudy’s targets (113), receiving yards (856), and yards per reception (16.5) were all stats that put him in the top five of first-year receivers. And after some issues with drops as a rookie, he mostly put those behind him in his second year.
In addition, extrapolating the stats Jeudy had in 10 games over a 17-game season would’ve put him ahead of Sutton in both receptions and yards. Though he didn’t score any touchdowns in those 10 games, everything else seems to indicate that Jeudy would’ve finished as the Broncos’ leading receiver if he hadn’t lost time due to injury.
If that weren’t enough, there have been some early reports out of training camp that Jeudy has been putting in extra work to build chemistry with his new quarterback. Wilson pointed out that not only was the young receiver putting tons of effort into taking notes and highlighting points with the other receivers, but Jeudy was also sitting in on the quarterback meetings. The third-year receiver said that understanding the quarterback’s thought process and their progression through their reads on each play would in turn make him a better receiver.
Jeudy’s attempt to get better and build chemistry with Wilson didn’t only start in training camp. He also mentioned going to his quarterback’s house in the offseason to make sure that he and Wilson stay on the same page through training camp and during the regular season.
With his youth, sky-high potential, and the effort he’s put in to win over Wilson, it seems like Jeudy has the upper hand in being the Broncos’ No. 1 receiver in the 2022 season. He knows that he has yet to live up to the high expectations of being a former first-round pick and that he needs a good third season to earn his fifth-year option.
That doesn’t mean Sutton will have a disappointing season by any means. Pairing him with not only a much better quarterback in Wilson but also an offensive-minded head coach in Nathaniel Hackett immediately raises his production ceiling. Hackett oversaw the Green Bay Packers offense from 2019 to 2021, which just so happened to be receiver Davante Adams’ best few seasons. While we can’t compare Sutton (or Jeudy) to someone on the level of Adams, Hackett clearly knows how to get the ball to talented receivers.
There’s plenty to be excited about in the Broncos’ passing game, even with the unfortunate loss of Patrick in training camp. Both Jeudy and Sutton will have chances to thrive with a new quarterback in a new offense. But even though Sutton has the better career track record—he’s still the only current Broncos receiver with a 1,000-yard season—the extra work Jeudy has put in with Wilson and high ceiling of potential seem to give him the edge in the battle for WR1.
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