In the Broncos dramatic win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, the offense had its fair share of hardships. The team struggled to find the end zone all night, but late in the fourth with the game on the line, a familiar hero emerged; receiver Courtland Sutton. Sutton made an incredible one-handed catch on fourth down to keep Denver alive, and then he followed it up by snagging what would be the game-winning touchdown. It's just the latest hit in a string of fantastic performances by the Broncos top wideout. Sutton has been enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro, and it is well-deserved, as the six-year veteran has faced plenty of adversity over the last several years.
After a breakout season in 2019, Courtland Sutton looked poised to become one of the NFL's premiere pass catchers. That season, Sutton reached 1,112 receiving yards and recorded six touchdowns, earning him a Pro Bowl nod. It looked like Sutton was ready to take the leap into becoming a super star, but a string of bad luck threw a wrench in his career path.
Sutton lost his 2020 season to a torn ACL, killing the momentum he gained through his dominant 2019 campaign. He returned to action the following years, but due to a poor offense and shaky quarterback play, he never came close to matching his 2019 production. His trademark ability to consistently come down with contested catches seemed to allude him in 2021 and 2022, but under the guidance of head coach Sean Payton in 2023, Sutton has returned to form.
In just 10 games, the 28-year-old receiver has totaled 45 receptions for 499 yards to go with a career-high eight touchdowns on the season. Sutton has done most of his damage in the red zone (where all of his touchdowns have occurred), according to Pro Football Reference, Sutton holds the league lead for red zone touchdowns. He has also hauled in a whopping 84.62 percent of his red zone targets which leads the league among players with a minimum of 10 targets inside the 20.
While Sutton's red zone numbers jump off the page, casual viewers may look at his reception and yardage totals and be unimpressed. His 499 receiving yards on the year puts him on pace to fall shy of 1,000 yards by season's end, and his 11.1 average yards per reception is the lowest its been in his career. These numbers, however, are the result of the conservative offense he is in.
The Denver offense in 2023 has been predicated on limiting mistakes by not forcing too many risks. Sean Payton's conservative play-calling and Russell Wilson's mostly conservative decisions have helped mitigate the offense's potential for disaster plays, but it has also limited opportunities for wideouts in the passing game, resulting in lower stat lines. Despite the offensive limitations, Sutton has found a way to make winning plays week after week on just a handful of targets.
Whether it be red zone touchdowns or coming down with tightly contested jump balls, Courtland Sutton has regained his confidence and is making plays the same way he made them back in 2019. Right now, he is Denver's best weapon in the passing game, and he may be the key to improving the offense as a whole. His consistent production will cause him to garner more attention from opposing defenses, and help open things up for other pass-catchers. If the Broncos can get both Sutton and other skill players going consistently, they can take the offense to a new level.