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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Second-year wide receiver Tim Patrick laughed, smiled and looked up at the blue sky before looking back down and delivering the story.
“I don’t know if you know this, but in his first practice, he jumped over somebody,” Patrick told BSN Denver in a voice fit for a fireside fable. “He literally jumped over somebody.”
“Since that day,” he added, holding the proverbial flashlight right underneath his chin, “everybody knew.”
They knew that Courtland Sutton, the high-character rookie out of Southern Methodist, was a force to be reckoned with between the lines.
“He’s a beast,” said defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
“He’s a beast,” echoed fellow receiver, Mark Chapman.
“He’s a beast,” Patrick confirmed. “He’s a real beast.”
Sutton, selected with the 40th-overall pick in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, was originally billed as a long-term play. A player who had all the tools but had a ways to go. After all, he spent most of his early college career playing safety.
“He’s very raw and has a lot of upside,” general manager John Elway said when the team selected Sutton. “He’s physical, he’s tough and he’s got the tools. It’s just a matter of coaching him.”
What most people didn’t realize is just how fast Sutton was going to improve. They didn’t realize just how serious he is about getting better.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I am going to work night in and night out to make sure that I become an expert at what I do,” Sutton said shortly after arriving in Denver. “Your craft is something that you have to hone, and with this being my specific craft now, my job is to play this position. I have to make sure that I hone in on that and become the best version of myself as a receiver that I can be. I do know that there are a lot of things I still need to work on and that’s why I’m glad that I have guys like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who I get to sit and watch, pick their brains when they’re out there doing extra work. ‘What specific drill are you doing? Why are you doing this drill? What’s your reasoning behind why you do these things?’ I think it’s really important not only just to do it but to understand why. ‘What does this help you work on? So, when you’re not here, I can work on those drills and know what I’m working on.'”
From his last day on the field at SMU to the NFL Combine, Sutton improved. From the day he was drafted to the first day of rookie mini camp, Sutton improved. From the last day of OTAs to the first day of training camp, Sutton improved.
“Everyday I come out, and I try to get one percent better, even in the offseason,” he told BSN Denver. “So, I would say that I am getting better every single day because I find something new in my game that I can get better at. I know that I’m not a perfect wide receiver so there’s always something I can get better at. That’s why you probably see those improvements… I’m consistently trying to work on my craft.”
All along the way, his teammates—from the rookies to the veterans—have taken notice.
“Man, the kid is special,” said running back De’Angelo Henderson. “We knew that in OTAs when he came in, and he was catching everything. One-handed catches, all of it. We saw his gifts from day one. When he came back to camp and was still doing the same things, I was like, “He’s going to be a special player here—for a long time.”
On the first day of camp, Sutton was our standout of the day, and that was before he started making the eye-popping plays. On both days three and four, the rookie made the play of the day, soaring over fellow rookie Issac Yiadom both times for the NFL version of a posterization. Yiadom, though, is most certainly not the only name on Sutton’s bounty list.
“He’s done a bunch of the DBs dirty,” Henderson said with a laugh. “I’m not going to name names.”
“He’s snagging on guys every day,” added Bradley Roby.
But while the posters are grabbing the headlines, it’s been the little things that have been even more impressive. The consistency.
On the first play of the same two-minute drill that ended with Sutton’s now famous “walk-off” touchdown, the big wideout found himself marked by Chris Harris Jr., you know, the guy who almost nobody throws at. Case Keenum didn’t care, he was going to 14 to get his drive going. The rookie ran a clean slant, brought it in for a gain of seven and the offense was off to the races.
In another early camp practice, Brendan Langley pressed up against the line and tried to jam the SMU product. Let’s just say it was No. 27 who ended up on his back wondering what just happened.
Throughout each practice, Sutton has shown an impressive feel for the game, and that may not be a coincidence.
“Having played safety, I understand defenses, I understand the schemes, I understand where people need to get to get into certain zones. Knowing that, whenever I’m sitting at my position, I can read a lot of stuff that’s going on on the field,” he explained. “Defenses at the NFL level are really good at disguising things, and I can’t wait to be able to start breaking that film down so that whenever I get on the field, I’m able to see things move and see how they try to hide it… I think it’s really huge to be able to understand how defenses move and where everybody needs to get to, because if you know where everybody needs to get to, then you know where the holes are going to be.”
In the National Football League, nothing is handed to rookies, especially not respect. As recently as two months ago, Domata Peko admitted he doesn’t even learn a rookie’s name until they’re on the 53-man roster. Just a few days later, Chris Harris Jr. offered a blank stare when asked about DaeSean Hamilton before getting some help from a reporter who called him by his number.
That alone should help you understand that Courtland Sutton is something different.
In the words of Tim Patrick, “That guy is the steal of the draft right now, man… Everybody knows, when the ball is in the air, and you’re covering Courtland Sutton, he’s most likely gonna get it.”