The Denver Broncos suffered a catastrophic loss on Wednesday, losing star receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending Achilles injury. From a fantasy perspective, this injury launches rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton to the top of the depth chart. While some may expect this to increase Sutton’s fantasy value, this injury only lowers his stock. Granted, he no longer has to fight with Sanders for targets, but Sutton simply isn’t ready to be a top wide receiver in an NFL offense.
Fantasy Football: Tamper Your Courtland Sutton Expectations
Sutton has a bright future in the NFL, but it’s clear that he’s not ready to be a number one receiver quite yet. Sutton entered the year as Denver’s third wide receiver and was promoted to WR2 when the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans.
Despite never facing the opposing teams’ best cornerbacks, Sutton has struggled to gain separation this season. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Sutton is averaging just 2.2 yards of separation per route run. If he can’t gain separation when Emmanuel Sanders was taking the opposing teams’ best cornerback, he’s certainly not going to do it now.
Some players are capable of overcoming a lack of separation by using their larger frame to box or defenders or just by having a quarterback that can place the ball anywhere. While Sutton’s 6’-3”, 218-pound frame can help him win jump balls, his quarterback situation limits his ceiling on these type of throws. Case Keenum is anything but an elite quarterback, and he struggles to consistently put the ball where he wants it. If Sutton’s going to be productive, he’s going to have to win on contested passes, as Keenum doesn’t have what it takes to consistently throw receivers open like a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady.
Thanks to his quarterback and his inability to separate, Sutton just hasn’t been that productive this year. Per SharpFootballStats.com, Sutton has a 47.5% success rate on targets this season, 4.2% below league average. Success rate, for those who don’t know, is used to determine whether a play puts the offense in a good position to continue a drive. As it is, Sutton hasn’t been getting it done this season, despite never facing top defenders. It’s probable that his success rate drops even lower when he’s lined up against the opposing defenses top cornerbacks.
Sutton Is Not A Lost Cause
The one thing working in Sutton’s favor is the schedule the rest of the way. From now until Week 16, Sutton gets to face off against the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders. These teams allow the 4th, 15th, and 18th most fantasy points to the wide receiver position in standard scoring, so the opportunity will be there for Sutton.
However, going by fantasy points to the wide receiver position isn’t the best way to predict Sutton’s output. Sutton’s going to be Denver’s WR1, so let’s look at how these teams do at defending an opposing teams’ top wide receiver.
Per Football Outsiders, the 49ers rank 19th in the league at defending the WR1, allowing an average of eight pass attempts and 71.6 yards per game. This is right around the league average rate of 7.9 pass attempts per game and 69 yards per game. Cleveland is right in line with the 49ers, averaging 9.8 pass attempts per game to the WR1 for 78 yards.
Despite ranking 32nd in overall defensive DVOA, the Raiders are actually the best in the league at defending the WR1 position. Per Football Outsiders, Oakland allows 7.1 passes per game to the WR1 position, but only allows 55.2 yards per game. This doesn’t look good for Sutton, as the Raiders have faced some truly elite WR1’s like Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen (twice), and Brandin Cooks, just to name a few. The Broncos and the Raiders face off in Week 16, so Sutton probably won’t be much use to you on Championship Weekend.
Last Word on Courtland Sutton
Courtland Sutton will see his snaps increase with Emmanuel Sanders out of the way, but the rookie isn’t ready to be a true number one receiver right now. Sutton hasn’t been able to consistently gain separation even when Sanders and Thomas were drawing the opposing defenses best defenders. It’s hard to imagine that problem resolving itself now that he’ll line up against top cornerbacks for the rest of the season. Case Keenum isn’t good enough to throw him open consistently, so it could be rough sailing for Sutton.
Sutton’s success rate was below league average before this injury, so it’s not like he was making big plays with any sort of regularity. With nobody to take defensive focus from him, that success rate will probably plummet. Don’t be surprised to see Denver go with a run-heavy attack the rest of the way.
The one thing working in Sutton’s favor is Denver’s schedule. The San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns are both below average at defending WR1’s, so Sutton might put up some numbers here. You can start him if you have no better option, but Sutton could be a touchdown or bust guy the rest of the season.
Embed from Getty Images