When the Broncos drafted Courtland Sutton in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, they knew what they were getting: A big, strong, fast wide receiver who could go up and make plays not just behind the defense, but above it as well.
The team expected that, once comfortable, he'd be able to add a new dimension to the Denver offense alongside veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
At the quarter mark of the season, it seems like that adjustment has indeed occurred. After three catches for 51 yards — both career highs — on Monday night against the Chiefs, the next step in Sutton's development is simply getting him the ball more often.
"Courtland is a guy that's special when the ball's in the air," Head Coach Vance Joseph said Thursday. "You saw last week. We gave him three or four deep shots, and that was credit to Billy [Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave]."
Sutton showed his ability to get open deep down the field on a couple of occasions against Kansas City.
Down 10-3 early in the second quarter, Denver had a first-and-10 at its own 35. Sutton got a free release against Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller and got a step behind him on a go route. Sutton cleared Fuller's hands out of the way and came down with the ball for a 42-yard gain. It was the second-longest gain through the air this year for the Broncos. Three plays later, Royce Freeman scored, and the extra point knotted the game at 10.
On the next drive, with the Broncos in their two-minute offense, Sutton again found himself involved heavily in the offense. Facing third-and-10 at the Kansas City 33, Sutton sold another go route against Orlando Scandrick, turned around, worked back to Case Keenum and caught the ball along the sideline, just short of the first-down line. Keenum converted on fourth-and-1 to Demaryius Thomas.
Two plays later, Keenum again looked Sutton's way. But the ball floated well out of bounds. Brandon McManus would convert a field goal to close out the half.
"We were close on a couple of them," Keenum said Monday night. "Even right there before the half, that's a ball I want back. I don't know how close he was to being in bounds, but you just give that dude a chance and he tends to come down with the ball."
Late in the third quarter, with the Broncos inside the red zone, Sutton found himself matched up on Scandrick and given a free release once again. Sutton juked inside and then beat Scandrick to the outside. Scandrick had no choice but to grab hold of Sutton at the 5-yard line, and it drew a pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Phillip Lindsay powered in from a yard out.
"[Sutton] is a great target," Keenum said Wednesday. "He's a big, strong kid that can run and runs really well. We've put some pressure on some defenses down the field, which is really good to have. We've got a lot different guys that are good at a lot of different things. It's good to have a different set of guys that do a lot of different things well."
Overall on Monday night, Sutton drew six targets, tied for his most this season. His 20 targets on the season are third on the team behind Thomas (33) and Sanders (30).
"[For] our SMU wideouts — Courtland and Emmanuel — we need to get those guys more touches," Musgrave said Thursday. "We're really looking forward to that because Courtland, he's really coming on here after our first four games of this season."
Sutton won't be the only rookie that Musgrave tries to scheme into more touches. After Freeman's and Lindsay's hot starts to the season, Musgrave said he needs to "take the training wheels off of those two young guys and let them go."
And with Sutton, Freeman and Lindsay unleashed, the Broncos' offense could soon pick up speed.