ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When it was time for the Broncos to make the 40th pick of this year’s NFL Draft and a certain lanky, athletic wide receiver from Southern Methodist was still available, they were shocked.
Minutes later, Courtland Sutton was a Denver Bronco.
“He’s a second-round pick that probably should have been a first-round pick,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said Wednesday.
“I don’t know how he didn’t go top 10 in the draft,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “His talent is unreal. He can make all the catches, so I’m excited to see him step up in this role.”
Sutton was drafted to be a receiver in the same mold of Demaryius Thomas — a promising package of size, speed and strength. It’s similar to the one that led to Thomas becoming one of the best receivers in franchise history.
After Thomas was traded to the Texans on Tuesday, though, Sutton is no longer learning under Thomas; he’ll step into his mentor’s role on Sunday and likely become a main point of the Broncos’ offense. The future starts now.
“We all have a job to perform and a job to do, and if we don’t do it, then people lose their jobs,” Sutton said Wednesday. “So being put in the position that I am in, I have to make sure I’m performing every day in practice, film-wise and then of course every time we have a game, I have to make sure I perform to the level I’m supposed to perform at.”
Though his role may increase significantly, Sutton’s approach to his job on a day-to-day basis won’t change.
“It’s just a theme that goes all the way back to OTAs for me: showing up and giving my all every single day,” said Sutton of his mindset. “Showing up and [making] sure I’m working on my craft to where I can be the best version of myself, because I ultimately believe that if I’m the best version of myself, I can be one of the best receivers in the league. [I’m] just coming to work every single day and [making] sure I do my job, not only for myself to move forward but for the team ultimately.”
That type of work ethic has paid dividends just months into his professional career. One of the premier big-play threats in the nation at SMU, Sutton has carried that acumen to the NFL as well. Case Keenum is tied for second in the league with nine completions of at least 40 yards, and three of those have been to Sutton, whose 19.1 yards per catch lead the team.
“I think he’s going to keep making big plays,” Keenum said Wednesday. “We’ve seen it all year: explosive plays as a deep threat [and] underneath. You want to get the ball in his hands. I look for him to keep doing more of the same and then step up.”
Keenum’s not the only member of the offense who’s confident in Sutton, though. Fellow wide receiver and SMU product Emmanuel Sanders has witnessed how Sutton has improved as he prepares to move into the starting lineup.
“You’ve seen him make the plays,” Sanders said. “You’ve seen him make the plays. He’s a playmaker. He goes out, he busts his butt. He’s definitely ready to be a starter. He’s definitely ready.”
Though Joseph admitted that his new starter opposite Sanders is still growing into his full potential, he also acknowledged that Sutton's development and promise going forward is part of why the team moved on from Thomas.
“I think Courtland can be special,” Joseph said. “Obviously he’s a gifted guy. He’s not a finished product, by no means. Our hope is he’s going to be special. That’s our hope. But he has to continue to work and to perfect his routes and to continue to play hard and study. We’ll see, but it’s his time, so he has plenty of reps and time to prove he’s the guy we think he can be.”
As an understudy to Thomas since he was drafted, Sutton took away several valuable lessons. Sutton said Thomas would have a little piece of advice for him every day, but one of the simplest ones stuck with him.
“He used to tell me do my job,” Sutton said. “‘Don’t worry so much about that over there or what’s going on over there. Do what you’re supposed to be doing on each specific play and you’ll be fine.’ So I take that with me.”
On Sunday, Sutton’s job changes a little bit. He’ll be in the starting lineup, and he’ll likely see the field much more often than he has for the first eight games of the season.
Some people might be nervous replacing an iconic player. Thanks to his dutiful preparation and plenty of advice from his predecessor, though, Sutton won’t be.
“Oh [I’ll be ready] for sure,” he said. “I don’t flinch from situations like this.”