ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During his 12-year career as an NFL quarterback, Joe Flacco has come to realize the difference between a No. 1 receiver and a player who doesn't possess the correct traits.
Courtland Sutton, according to Flacco, is most definitely a No. 1 receiver.
"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," Flacco said Wednesday. "Courtland is obviously that guy."
And in the wake of the Broncos' decision to trade wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers, Sutton will get the chance to prove that.
Flacco, though, doesn't expect Sutton's role to change too much — and for good reason. Through seven weeks, Sutton ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards and has added a team-high three receiving touchdowns.
"I just show up and go to work every day," Sutton said. "Nothing is really going to change for me. I go to work every single day. 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."
Sutton has prepared for this moment since the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. When he arrived in Denver, he learned from both Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Now that both have moved on, Sutton will continue to try to implement that advice and advance his game. The same will be true for a corps of young receivers that includes DaeSean Hamilton and — at some point after the bye week — Tim Patrick.
"Emmanuel taught, not only myself, but our room so much stuff," Sutton said. "He was a guy who was a dog when it came to playing this position and that's something that you can't teach. That is something that comes from within, and he has that. That's something that I know everyone in our room has learned from him as being able to go out there and play this game at a high level and showcase what we can do. That's going to be something that we'll miss for sure. Like I said, he taught us that stuff and he showed it to us week in and week out. That's something that we know, and we know how to do it. That's why I'm not nervous about guys in our room stepping up and being ready for this challenge because we've had two really good role models [Sanders and Thomas] to look at and say, 'This is how we should prepare, this is how we should go out and play this game at a very high level.'"
Sutton, in particular, may have to deal with increased attention. When Sanders missed the end of last season, Sutton drew the top cornerbacks from each of the Broncos' opponents. He broke 50 yards just once in those final four games and was held to two or fewer catches on two occasions.
He doesn't seem to be worried about the challenge.
"I just show up and I put myself in the best position to be successful [by] watching the film I need to watch and taking care of my body so that my body is ready to be able to go out there and perform at a high level," Sutton said. "Other than that, whoever is matched up against me, whether it's the No. 1 corner or No. 2 corner — whoever it is, safety over the top or safety not over the top, my job is to get open and make a play. That's what I'm going to do."
Sutton likely won't replace Sanders' contributions by himself. But if Sutton can continue to produce at his 2019 clip, that should be more than enough.