ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was just a hypothetical, what-if question to Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum.
If you saw Courtland Sutton just walking down the hall of the team’s complex and you didn’t know what position he played, what would you think?
Keenum didn’t hesitate, and almost as soon as the question was finished he was already smiling and said: “Man, I really, really hope that guy’s a wide receiver.’’
Fear not, Sutton is a wide receiver, and while the word “raw" has been used to describe his game, the second-round pick has been a must-see player in the early portion of training camp. He’s been an intoxicating mix of speed, size and athleticism that has some of the youngest of Broncos fans already trying to practice their leaping one-hand catches in the grass as the team practices just a few yards away.
“Big fella, runs fast, smooth, explosive, goes and gets it like he’s going for a rebound," said Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the longest-tenured Bronco. “That’s all I can say. You look at him, you see him and that jumps at you, but I had no idea he could run routes like he does. He’s a big guy and stays low on his routes. That means you’ll play."
Sutton was the 40th player selected in April’s draft. A 6-foot-4, 216-pounder, Sutton had two 1,000-yard seasons at SMU as well as a stint, for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, on the school’s basketball team. Now the Broncos are hopeful Sutton, along with fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton, can change the team’s rather uninspiring history with rookie receivers.
Since 1990, the Broncos have now taken 33 receivers in the draft. With Sutton and Hamilton, along with Isaiah McKenzie and Carlos Henderson in the 2017 draft, Denver has drafted four in the last two years. Of the 31 receivers drafted before this year, just five finished their rookie seasons with more than 20 receptions.
Only one -- Eddie Royal with 91 receptions and five touchdowns in 2008 -- finished with more than 35 receptions. And 13 finished their rookie seasons without a reception, whether because they were injured, cut or simply didn’t play much.
With that, and in the wake of a 5-11 season, the Broncos have professed a wait-and-see approach. But Sutton's daily acrobatics have been hard to resist.
“He’s pretty good," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “I was in camp in Houston with [Texans wide receiver] De’Andre Hopkins as a rookie. Very comparable. Great ball skills, huge catch radius. For rookies it’s tough. There’s different levels … we’ll see … [Sutton] is, right now, a 60-40 guy with the jump balls, and that is huge in this league. Most guys are 50-50, but he’s a 60-40 guy. He is what we thought he would be. He’s got strong hands, he’s a big man and he’s got a huge catch radius. For a quarterback, he’s friendly."
That’s the word Keenum uses -- “friendly, very friendly."
It’s all pretty good news for a team that had just one player -- Thomas -- with more than three touchdown receptions last season. And Thomas was still tied for 35th in the league with just five touchdown catches.
Enter the level-headed Sutton to the equation.
“I understand that I haven’t done anything yet," Sutton said. “… My goal isn’t to be the best practice guy I can be. ... All of those [camp receptions] are really nice for the vets to see that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do when I come out here. But it’s not one of those things, I come out and say ‘Wow! I’ve arrived.’ The vets say I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’ve got to come out here and keep working at that so that I can not only do it now but keep doing it for a very long time."
The biggest reason Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the longest-tenured starting duo of wide receivers in the league, found themselves with so many defenders around them in so many situations last season was because the Broncos didn’t consistently have anyone else in the pass pattern defenses were all that concerned about.
Beyond Thomas (83 catches) and Sanders (47), no other wide receiver caught more than 30 passes. Sutton leads a group of new arrivals filled with youth and size (Denver has seven wide receivers in camp 6-foot-1 or taller) the Broncos hope will improve their ability to close out drives with touchdowns.
“It is one of the deepest wide receiver corps we’ve had since I’ve been here in my nine years," Thomas said. "It’s going to be a tough decision for the coaches. Because guys can get open, every guy can get off the press, every guy has great routes -- not many mental errors."
“I have a lot to learn, so many nuances, little things," Sutton said. “But when [Keenum] throws it, I want to catch it, no matter where it is. If I do that, I’m doing my job."