Courtland Sutton Can Still Thrive in Fantasy Football Despite Denver’s New Additions
In just his second season in the NFL, Sutton established himself as a potent boundary weapon and one of the better contested-catch threats in the league. Sutton's statistical and physical development was evident, but Denver went out and made several big additions at offensive skill positions this offseason.
That begs the question: will the competition for volume be a setback for Sutton, or can he turn in another solid WR2 (top-24) season?
The first piece of information that needs to be addressed is the quarterback carousel the Broncos deployed in 2019.
The team began with veteran quarterback and former Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco under center, though that experiment lasted only eight weeks. Flacco registered a 2-6 record in the process, playing subpar across the board -- though the same cannot be said for Sutton, as he was incredibly productive throughout the entire season.
The next quarterback up was a career journeyman in Brandon Allen. Once again, the quarterback situation was deemed lackluster, with no noticeable improvement -- ensuring the experiment would last all of three weeks. Allen -- like Flacco -- looked overmatched in every facet, leading the team to a 1-2 record while completing only 46.4% of his passes for a total of three touchdowns and two interceptions.
It was at this point in Week 13 that the Broncos finally handed the keys over to youngster Drew Lock -- a former second-round draft pick and the future of the team. Lock sparked the offense enough to lead the team to a 4-1 record down the stretch, and though his numbers weren't drastically better than Flacco's, the improvement in the offense was definitely noticeable.
Ironically enough, the carousel at quarterback didn't really affect Sutton much, as his splits from Week 1 through Week 12 and from Week 13 through Week 17 hardly differed:
|Category||With Flacco/Allen (Weeks 1-12)||With Drew Lock (Weeks 13-17)|
|Targets per Game||7.7||8.0|
|Receptions per Game||4.5||4.4|
|Receiving Yards per Game||57.8||56.0|
|Yards per Target||9.79||7.00|
|Receiving Touchdowns per Game||0.27||0.40|
|Reception NEP per Reception||1.57||1.15|
|Reception NEP per Target||1.00||0.63|
Sutton proved that his ability was no fluke, as he was able to rise above and produce no matter who was under center. A wide receiver capable of overcoming bad quarterback play is of great comfort to fantasy football players, as it ensures a relatively stable (year-to-year basis) and projectable statline.
Among all wide receivers with 35-plus receptions, Sutton ranked 16th in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and 18th in Reception NEP per catch, proving just how efficient and effective he was with iffy quarterback play. Not only was Sutton an effective scorer in fantasy football, but he also was an effective real-life player who won often.
As we dive deeper into Sutton's 2019 season, we begin to see just how large his target share was, how effective he was with his opportunities, and most specifically, how he was used, per Player Profiler:
|Category||2019 Result (Rank)|
|Deep Targets||26 (11th)|
|Target Share||26.1% (8th)|
|Completed Air Yards||787 (16th)|
|Yards After Catch||325 (17th)|
|Red Zone Receptions||11 (9th)|
|Fantasy Points per Game||13.9 (27th)|
|Yards per Reception||15.4 (20th)|
|Yards per Target||8.8 (33rd)|
|Yards per Pass Route||2.48 (12th)|
|Average Target Distance||12.4 (38th)|
|Target Separation||1.58 (41st)|
|Fantasy Points per Pass Route||0.50 (23rd)|
|Fantasy Points per Target||1.77 (47th)|
Sutton was used as a true number-one stud receiver last year. He was in the top 11 in both target share and total deep targets. Add the deep volume to his ninth-most red zone catches, and it tells us he was seeing plenty of the money targets -- deep balls and scoring looks.
Denver's New Additions
Projecting Sutton's workload in 2020 is a tough task to embark on, as the Broncos drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first and second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and they added a multi-dimensional weapon out of the backfield in Melvin Gordon during free agency. Add those moves to Sutton, tight end Noah Fant, and running back Phillip Lindsay all returning in 2020. That's a lot of new toys for Lock.
The one positive here for Sutton is the vacated target share left over from Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders played in seven games with the team in 2019 prior to being traded, soaking up 30 receptions on 44 targets for 367 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.
Those opportunities will now likely be split among the new additions. Additionally, in the seven games that Sutton and Sanders shared the field, Sutton averaged 7.7 targets per game. In the remaining nine games post-Sanders, Sutton averaged 7.9 targets per game. According to AirYards.com, Sutton had a 23% target share (17th among wideouts) in Weeks 1 through 7 and a 26% target share (8th) in Weeks 8 through 17.
Ironically enough, according to FantasyPros' fantasy football leaders chart, Sutton averaged 15.8 fantasy points per game in full-point PPR leagues during the first seven weeks, a figure which ranked him as WR11. Weeks 8 through 17 resulted in only 12.4 FPPG in PPR leagues, a figure which ranked Sutton at WR32.
These numbers may not look very significant, but they're quite important. Having a rock-solid second option like Sanders in 2019 or Jeudy/Hamler in 2020 is likely to eat into some of Sutton's target share (as expected). The most interesting part is that the increase in target share that Sutton saw over the last nine weeks actually resulted in less production on a per-game basis.
Logically speaking, that can be explained by a variety of factors -- such as an inexperienced rookie quarterback being tossed into the fire, a lack of chemistry between Lock and Sutton, and a more concerted effort from defenses to game-plan against Sutton with the lack of another dangerous receiver opposite of him. With Jeudy and Hamler in the fold in addition to Fant entering Year 2, defenses shouldn't be able to load up to stop Sutton.
Our projections at numberFire more or less have Sutton repeating his 2019 breakout.
We have Sutton slated to score 143.5 fantasy points in standard leagues, a figure which places him 18th among wide receivers and is roughly seven points fewer than what he produced a year ago. Sutton is projected to receive 127 targets, which represents an increase of 3 targets over his 2019 workload.
According to Bestball10's average draft position data (ADP) in drafts dating back to May 1st, Sutton's current ADP lands him at 48.3, ranking him at WR19. That value places Sutton right in line with our season-long projection at numberFire.
Sutton proved he could take the next step in his development in just his second year in the league. He quickly became the favored option on his team and eclipsed the famed 1,000-yard mark relatively quickly.
The potential for Sutton to continue to develop and ascend into another tier as a receiver is certainly a real possibility in 2020, but the safer bet is that Sutton will be able to generate similar numbers in 2020 despite all the new additions in Denver. The potential workloads of said additions may eat into some of Sutton's target share, though recent history suggests Sutton's workload isn't going to be the only determining factor in his ability to rack up points.
If the Broncos are wise, they'll find a way to feature their most dangerous offensive weapon. And if history does repeat itself, the additions of new weapons should actually help Sutton's fantasy output, not hinder it.