2022 REWIND: Courtland Sutton’s 2021…What the Heck Happened? And bonus Jeudy, Patrick, Lock notes…
*This was written, literally, right before the Tim Patrick ACL news. I am leaving it as-is for mentions of Patrick in the main body of this piece but will address the Patrick hole left behind and the ramifications at the end.
Before you begin reading through this, you should probably take a gander at Courtland Sutton’s game log from 2021. Why? Because it’s a disaster. I’ve seen WRs have down numbers because of the QB play, I get it…but I don’t think I’ve ever seen these kinds of numbers from a #1 WR, no matter the circumstances.
Here’s a quick link to his 2021 game log: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/S/SuttCo00/gamelog/2021/
Sutton’s final 10 games of the 2021 season, he had 1 or 2 catches in a game in eight of the 10 games. Under 30 yards receiving in seven of those 10 games. That’s atrocious. I know Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock are weak, but these kind of numbers from a supposed #1 WR, the WR leader in the locker room, a big contract extension guy (in 2021), a WR playing 70-90%+ of the offensive snaps in every game -- it’s surreal just how low his output was.
17 games played in 2021...2 TDs. Two 100+ yard games.
You’re (Sutton) the #1 WR? You saw 98 targets and played in all 17 games, and had two TDs? You were under 50 yards receiving in 12 of the 17 games?
What the heck happened?
Oh, it was the quarterback play!
Oh, he’s coming off an ACL! You know it hinders the return year!
Oh, Vic Fangio was a bad coach and Pat Shurmur is a terrible/the worst O-C.
Can I offer another suggestion to ponder? What if it is that Courtland Sutton isn’t that great of a WR, as great as we might think he is?
But Russell Wilson is coming…he’s gonna make it all better! R.C., you graded Sutton as a star…a great WR prospect! He’s Denver’s #1 guy! He’s gonna heal up another year from his ACL! All true things, potentially.
I’m not arguing that Sutton isn’t good -- I’m wondering if we just need to acknowledge he is not great. That we need to operate from the point of view that he’s just solid…and not much better or equal-to Tim Patrick. Now you’re mad. Now you’re ready to fight.
Sutton, over his career, is averaging 3.5 catches and 53.2 yards per game with 0.24 TDs per game…about a TD every 4+ games, a 17-game pace of 4.1 TDs per ‘season’. He’s caught 56.1% of his targets in his career (which is bottom tier) and has never had a season catching above 60% of his targets…which is all strange for a guy we all think is a given as a #1 WR, one of the better WRs in the league. I know his QBs deserve a lot of the blame, but I think there is a hidden Sutton ‘issue’ (mild, not damning) in here to explore as well.
Trying to think of really good/great WRs stuck in bad passing games to compare this Sutton weak career situation to, despite being thought of highly…
Amari Cooper was always more, usually way more productive in his bad times in Las Vegas.
Allen Robinson was good or great in output with a string of teams/QBs that are worse than what Sutton has dealt with.
DeAndre Hopkins was great with junk QBs, before Deshaun Watson or Kyler Murray.
Terry McLaurin has been more productive with absolute garbage at QB, a different set of QB garbage every season of his career.
Sterling Shepard has been a de facto NYG #1 WR with awful QBs and has averaged 4.8 catches, 53.9 yards and 0.29 TDs per game…a better, or much better production than Sutton so fart. You wouldn’t dream of Shepard being in the same discussion as Sutton, on field talent, right?
Sutton’s numbers/output is always below these guys I just mentioned…in every category over time…whether looking at career ‘pre games’ or individual seasons.
What is going on?
I think you can blame the ACL for 2021. I think you can blame the career production numbers on a bad team/bad coached/badQBs. But I am finding a lot of excuses, real or not…but I am not finding pockets of greatness. Not in the output numbers. Not on the tape.
I watched 10+ targeted games scattered throughout Sutton’s 2021 (and went back and watched some 2019 tape), and I was shocked at what I saw, especially in 2021. I have been pro-Sutton for years. That awesome three-cone. That nice size. The aggressive play. Those great highlight catches downfield over the years. I was ready to see an elite WR held back by ‘forces beyond his control’ and now he’s gonna explode with Russell Wilson…like always held-back-by-quarterback Allen Robinson is gonna with Matt Stafford.
After watching/studying the tape of Courtland Sutton’s 2021, and going back through his career numbers…now, I’m not so sure Sutton’s going to the moon. Scouting all Justin Fields’s 2021 games, I could also see in an instant that Allen Robinson is still one of the 10 best WRs walking the planet…just held back by his QB play. Sutton…not so much.
What I am seeing in Sutton, possibly…just a working theory…is a WR whose talents may not be as nice for the modern game.
Five+ years ago, getting an aggressive, big bodied, fast-enough WR with scintillating three-cone was a dream come true. Sutton was gonna fight for the ball and win a bunch using his size as a weapon/shield. Sutton was a unique, wonderful profile years ago.
Now, most of the top WRs in Fantasy are 6’0” +/-, 190-200 pounds +/- and their three-cone may or may not matter compared to their real footwork to get open off the snap. They either have incredible feet to get open on anyone, especially for short/quick targets…and/or 4.3 speed to run by anyone…or are tall/long/huge reach to be a TD weapon. Sutton is none of those three things.
Sutton is fast enough, but not a burner. Sutton had that great three-cone, but he doesn’t work like a Davante Adams or Diontae Johnson, etc., getting open in a blink off the snap. And he’s tall, but not overly tall with some huge reach…and his low TD production gives more evidence of that. Sutton is not bad in any of these areas…he’s just not great in any of them either.
When I watched Sutton’s 2021, all I saw was a guy that was going deep on most every route. He’s not used a ton as an inside warrior…because he doesn’t have a great move to get open inside-outside short-medium. He’s not bad working the interior…just not great. His best move is -- go deep, is covered, but is a good enough receiver that he can outmuscle or adjust to make some circus catches. He’s a very good/great tough guy catcher of the ball deep, when he gets catchable balls. But note within what I said there -- Sutton is almost always covered, not a threat to beat modern CBs in a foot race…and thus he’s making circus/jump ball catches on occasion…downfield. You have to trust-throw it to him and hope he comes down with it -- and that’s not the modern-day passing game, or great for cheap/easy PPR output. The modern-day passing game wants guys open 2-5 yards deep, or are fast off the snap, great pitch and catch WRs, or awesome bubble-screen-and-go weapons. Sutton is none of those.
It's not like Sutton never gets open…it’s just he doesn’t get open that much. And his style of play is not the get-open-quick pitch & catch BFF WR…nor is he a bubble screen guy. He’s in a bad role for high-end FF production -- he’s more a go-deep big /aggressive guy on the outside, which leads to some great catches here and there but no high-end FF consistency (go look at his career game log again, if needed). More consistent with Russell Wilson? For sure…but not a lock for stardom ahead…and a possible letdown is on the table (where he’s just a solid WR2 in 2021).
Sutton has 50 career games played with four 100+ yard games logged.
Darnell Mooney had four 100+ yard games in the 2021 season alone…with Fields-Dalton-Foles.
Sutton’s underperformance/under-outputting is getting on my nerves the more I go through this -- I was ignoring it just assuming Sutton was fine, it's just his QBs sucked.
I don’t doubt that Courtland Sutton won’t have a good season with Russell Wilson. Sutton is in a great spot to be a good connection with Russ. Sutton is good…Russ is great…Sutton is still the de facto #1 WR there. It’s gonna work...but maybe not work as well as you think…with some risk it is a letdown…and some fear into the future that Denver is going to realize they need a better #1 WR…than Sutton, or Jeudy.
My message to you from this study would be two-fold…
1) Courtland Sutton is not a future star/elite WR talent. He’s in a good spot with a great QB, like many other WRs.
2) Allen Robinson is the better/similar story here…better on-field talent, the better output career WR in always-bad places…who is going to go play with the best QB he’s ever played with, in much better weather with a much better team -- and ARob is trading below/cheaper than Sutton in ADP.
Allen Lazard is a more on-field talented ‘sudden’ #1 with an elite QB…and trades way off of Sutton’s ADP.
Russell Gage is in a great spot, for a moment, with an elite QB (if Godwin is out)…and trades way off of Sutton’s ADP.
Sutton is probably closer to JuJu Smith-Schuster excitement levels than he is the more explosive/better technical WRs like ARob., Mike Williams, or even healthy Adam Thielen…among the bigger guy WRs with good/great QBs.
When you see the next set of FFM projections, you’re gonna notice Sutton sliding -- I think he could have a moment with Russ, but I also think there are better, similar situational WR2 cost/bets to chase for 2021. It’s not a bad bet, just not as sure as I thought a few weeks ago. Hoping/assuming Sutton + Russ = WR1 is too frothy a thought after watching the 2021 tape and looking back over Sutton's career…possible big year, not out of the question, but I see others with the same hope who are more talented and trade cheaper.
*I had already final-edited this piece when something hit me, and I am adding on quick at the end – (if this is true for you) you know how we’ve all thought Michael Gallup has been wasted, underutilized in a semi-ignored outside go-deep WR role in Dallas? Amari was the main guy, and CeeDee plays that FF-juicy slot role…while Gallup just…gallops…on the outside waiting for deep balls, he’s almost like a decoy…but we all think he is capable of much more?
Sutton is used/plays a style like Gallup has been forced to – go-deep outside, which leads to lower volume hit rate on passes (especially with bad QBs) and every so often hits on the big play…but FF disappointments, despite us seeing them make great plays and making us bemoan how they are used?
Sutton’s routes, his style is like that of what Gallup has been forced to do too often in Dallas. But in Gallup’s case, I believe he is capable of more (now that Amari is gone). On the other hand, I’m not sure Sutton is much more than ‘aggressive deep ball guy’. Ten years ago, you’d rather have Sutton as a beast/bully WR. In 2022, I think you want the Gallup (non ACL) type pitch-and-catch capable size/worker who can also work deep…and Gallup might be better built for the deep game over Sutton as well. If Sutton keeps playing like Gallup 2018-2020, he’s not going to become a WR1 with Russ, for long/consistently. This is my fear…what’s kicking around in my head when I think of my time re-studying Sutton in the NFL.
Bonus notes from this study…
-- I watched Jerry Jeudy work within this study, as well. You probably know, I’m not a fan of his going into it. However, I didn’t hate this as much as I thought. I mean, Jeudy is not anything special…he’s fine -- gets open great with fast feet but then is crap from that point after, a finesse/scared WR who has too many drops (because of his skittish play)…but he catches enough passes, sees enough targets/snaps to be FF-solid.
Jeudy is gonna play…he’s gonna get open in-between the cracks of a defense a la Marquise Brown (but not near as good). Jeudy will be OK/fine for output because he’ll get more opportunity than he deserves -- but he won’t be a breakout star, but he’ll probably have some spike games.
I leave this study thinking -- at least Jeudy was getting open. Sutton was just running deep into coverage and rarely shaking loose.
-- After I started doing the first draft of this piece, news hit that Tim Patrick tore his ACL in practice and is done for the season. I would say, from my study time of the Denver 2021 passing game…Patrick may have been the best WR they had…but it’s not a huge compliment because Sutton and Jeudy were so average in 2021, on tape. Patrick is OK, not great…rangy and reliable enough.
With him gone…doe
s it help Sutton and Jeudy get an FF boost? N
ot really. Patrick wasn’t getting an abundance of targets as it was…and whomever replaces him will likely step into close to/the same targeting levels, even if it is a rotation of #3 WRs.
Everyone will assume K.J. Hamler will now be the #3 WR, and that’s likely the safe bet -- but Kendall Hinton is a better pure WR, and he has struck a fast relationship of respect with Russell Wilson. I think there’s a shot this will be Hinton’s job Week 1, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Even if it’s Hamler, I think Hinton will take a bunch of snaps as a #3 as well…and they either split the role or Hinton takes it over as the season wears on.
When Nathaniel Hackett addressed the media after practice, the practice where they lost Patrick, when asked what will happen to fill Patrick’s role, Hackett gave some coach speak but then answering a similar follow up question, the first WR Hackett mentioned was diminutive/speedy rookie Montrell Washington…and that falls in-line with all the camp buzz, and words from my sources.
I think Washington is becoming Denver’s favorite version of K.J. Hamler style -- so, Hamler has to beat out Washington for the similar style/role but then also beat out Hinton, who plays a more Russell Gage type role. It’s possible the answer to who will be Denver’s #3 WR is a combo of Hinton-Washington/Hamler.
Much less TE Albert Okwuegbunam possibly being the key #3, or better, target. We’re moving Albert O., Hinton, and Washington up on the next projections…not moving Hamler, if that tells you anything. Greg Dulcich is just getting back to lice practice from an injury that set the rookie back…he’s not ready to bump Albert O. at this point, I believe.
-- Watching the 2021 Denver offense back, Drew Lock is just too erratic to be a legit NFL QB right now. He looks pretty one play then awful the next 2-3-4-5-6. I don’t think Lock will grow into it under Pete Carroll.
Lock and Bridgewater were both bad, on the tape, as expected…that (O-C) Pat Shurmur 2021 offense was bad, the WR routes were stupid/a waste -- it’s real that Sutton (among others) suffered from the QB play and a bad offensive plan for the WRs, but I’m telling you from watching it like a hawk…Sutton just isn’t that impressive. So many new era WRs are passing him by. He’s good…but not as good as I thought he was/used to be.