ENGLEWOOD | What the Pro Bowl voters didn’t see in Courtland Sutton is crystal clear to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia.
“This guy is so impressive to me,” said Patricia, who will get a first-hand look at Sutton on Sunday when the Lions (3-10-1) visit the Denver Broncos (5-9).
“He’s big, he’s strong and he does a great job at the line of scrimmage. If you try to press him, he’s going to power through that. His releases are outstanding and he does a great job at the top of his route. I think his ability to get in and out of breaks to create that separation and to be able to burst that transition is really phenomenal,” Patricia said.
Wait, there’s more.
“He’s got great hands and certainly the run-after-the-catch is outstanding,” Patrica continued. “He makes guys miss and he runs through tackles. I really don’t think people realize how big he is when he’s coming at them. Certainly we see a lot of crossover tape and when you’re watching other defenses, you can’t help but notice how he shows up in detrimental ways.”
Sutton set out last offseason to make just that type of impression.
After flashing his ability to make highlight catches, Sutton wanted to run better routes with more stamina, speed and strength.
He’s done all that, and more, in 2019.
Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was stumped when asked where Sutton had made his biggest strides.
“He has improved in every aspect, mentally, his approach to the game, knowing his craft, just his overall confidence, his feel for the offensive system,” Scangarello said Thursday. “He just has that ‘it’ quality. He has everything it takes to be great.”
Sutton is a lot like Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones, and that is by design.
“We watch a lot of Julio film,” said Scangarello, who was an offensive assistant with the Falcons in 2015. “I always feel that Julio is the best receiver that I’ve ever seen. He’s just a different person. And (Sutton) has a lot of those same qualities. When you have length and speed and power, it is very difficult for a DB in a one-on-one position because he can jump-ball you, he can outrebound you in a sense, and that’s hard on a smaller guy. And he can blow by you in his pad level and power.”
Their paths have only crossed briefly when the Falcons and Broncos played in the Hall of Fame game last summer.
“If we run into each other in the offseason, it’d be cool just to sit down and pick his brain and talk to him a little bit,” Sutton said.
One guy Sutton has spent a lot of time with is former NFL star receiver Anquan Boldin, whom he trains with in Florida during the offseason and who gave him tips about beating double coverage.
Sutton, a second-round pick from SMU, caught 42 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, but his position coach, Zach Azzanni, saw a lot more potential.
“He got labeled last year being a rookie as kind of the jump-ball guy, down-the-sideline guy. That’s really all he was. People assumed he was the big, slow wideout that jumped over the top of people, and we all knew that was not true,” Azzanni said. “He just needed time to develop as a receiver, run the route tree and (do) all the little things that go into playing receiver, other than running real fast down the sideline and jumping up and catching the ball.
“That doesn’t always mean you’re open. So we tied to really emphasize on all his routes how to get open in this league and run all the different routes. He wanted to do that and he can do that, obviously. He’s been doing a great job of that.”
Sutton solidified his standing as the Broncos’ No. 1 receiver this year, long before Emmanuel Sanders was traded to San Francisco.
Sutton leads the team with 63 catches for 1,019 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that made him one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this week.
“Ultimately it’s a motivating tool to continue to stay on the path, because obviously I’m doing something right and the people see it besides the popularity and votes around the league. It’s more (that teammates) see it, I know that I’m progressing and pushing myself to become better each and every day. As long as I’m staying true to that, that’s really all that matters to me honestly,” Sutton said.
Sutton plans on making a similar leap in Year 3, too.
“Every day I try to make myself better. So of course I want to be better next year than I am this year,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as if I’ve reached my plateau. Every opportunity I get to make myself better, I’m taking it and this offseason — every offseason — is the perfect time to elevate my game.”