ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It couldn't have been an easy offseason for Courtland Sutton.
The 2018 second-round pick caught 42 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, but after Emmanuel Sanders suffered an injury in December, Sutton seemed to struggle to shoulder the load of a No. 1 receiver.
Ahead of this season, he faced a multitude of questions about his ability to be a No. 1 receiver — and about if he could be more than just a jump-ball receiver.
Sutton's likely heard the criticisms. And it's a certainty that his teammates have, as well.
"I'm proud of him," running back Phillip Lindsay said. "People were talking down a lot about him last year, about his route-running ability [and] his short game, and he proved that he can do that. Now people can get off of that and just let the man play."
Against the Raiders, he did just that.
Sutton set career highs in catches and receiving yards as he hauled in seven receptions for 120 yards. Five of those catches went for at least 15 yards, including a long of 30 yards.
And rather than run exclusively deep routes, a majority of Sutton's catches came on intermediate routes in tight windows.
"I thought he made some catches in traffic and had strong hands," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I thought he did a good job getting some yardage after the catch also. It wasn't like he was wide open, but he's a big physical guy that I can feel comfortable throwing the ball to in some of those situations. It was good to see him play the way he did and really rise to the occasion and get himself going. I think he's going to be big for us obviously as the year goes on, but it definitely helps to have a big, physical guy like him playing well because it just makes everybody else go that much more."
Both head coaches that will be involved in Sunday's game between the Broncos and Bears seemed to agree with Flacco's assessment.
"Courtland is obvious still a young player, but a [rapidly] ascending … player," Fangio said. "He had a hell of a game the other night."
Added Bears head coach Matt Nagy: "I was impressed with him coming out of college. I think that those big, tall wide receivers that can win any of those 50-50 balls when the ball's in the air — that's what he does, but yet he's a good route runner too. He poses a threat there. You get in the red zone, he can win those jump balls. I think the biggest difference I see just from this Week 1 game versus last year, when we were playing against them in the scrimmage and during the season, is just probably a little more of a confidence and the swag that he has, which you can appreciate. I have a lot of respect for him. He's very talented and he has really, really good ball skills."
In the team's first home game of the season, Sutton will aim to post another strong performance. If the Broncos' second half against the Raiders was any indication, that could certainly happen.
"I felt like we kind of hit a stride in the second half," Sutton said. "In the first half, we kind of had some penalties, so we were killing some of our plays that were working. None of us are concerned too much about the explosiveness and what this offense can do, because we were having plays that were working the first half. We just had some penalties that were offsetting those. Penalties can kill any team. It kills momentum.
"We're not too worried. We're just going to go in and, like I said, go to work and keep stacking those days."