By Chad Jensen

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (247SPORTS)– Its easy to argue that the Denver Broncos haven’t skipped a beat since trading away the franchise’s second all-time leading receiver — Demaryius Thomas — ahead of Week 9. Just look at Case Keenum‘s numbers, the overall efficiency of the Broncos’ offense, and the amount of points the team has scored in the last three games.

But one can also argue that Courtland Sutton has been a bit of a disappointment since the Thomas trade, though I wouldn’t go quite that far.

gettyimages 1057348286 Joseph Again Publicly Challenges Sutton: He Didn’t Play Great

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 4: Wide receiver Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos nearly has a touchdown catch before dropping the ball under coverage by defensive back Shareece Wright #43 of the Houston Texans at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

However, I will say that Denver’s second-round wideout was extremely disappointing in the team’s 24-17 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 12.

“He didn’t play great on Sunday,” head coach Vance Joseph said on Monday. “He had a couple of drops. I wouldn’t say he’s pressing, but he wants to make plays.”

gettyimages 1063336800 Joseph Again Publicly Challenges Sutton: He Didn’t Play Great

CARSON, CA – NOVEMBER 18: Wide receiver Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos makes a catch in front of cornerback Casey Hayward #26 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at StubHub Center on November 18, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Joseph might not be willing to say it, but Courtland Sutton does appear to be pressing. Before Thomas was jettisoned, Sutton seemed to thrive in the No. 3 receiver role — where the pressure and scrutiny was significantly less intense.

And its not like his snap-count has risen dramatically from an overall percentage perspective. In Week 8 — Thomas’ last game as a Bronco — Sutton played 67 percent of Denver’s offensive snaps.

gettyimages 1022799082 Joseph Again Publicly Challenges Sutton: He Didn’t Play Great

LANDOVER, MD – AUGUST 24: Wide receiver Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos makes a catch in front of defensive back Josh Norman #24 of the Washington Redskins in the first half during a preseason game at FedExField on August 24, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In Week 12 Sutton played 74 percent of the snaps — which is obviously a seven-percent increase, but that’s not saying much.

Sutton hasn’t been terrible post-Thomas — don’t get me wrong. But it does feel like the talented rookie is ‘pressing’ somewhat, still navigating the responsibilities and expectations that come with being a starter for the Broncos.

Sutton had 78 receiving yards in Week 11 on the road vs. the Chargers, including a crucial catch-and-run at the end of the game that set up Brandon McManus for the game-winning field goal. The next week vs. Pittsburgh, however, Sutton only hauled in one of his four targets for 14 yards and dropped a pass on a critical third down late in the game.

courtland sutton Joseph Again Publicly Challenges Sutton: He Didn’t Play Great

(credit: CBS)

“I thought he played well against the Chargers,” Joseph said. “He made some big plays in that game. Yesterday, he was kind of hot and cold. He wasn’t great, and he would tell you that.”

The truth is, Sutton has to acclimate to being ‘the guy’. Even though Emmanuel Sanders is the unquestioned leader in the wide receivers room, Sutton is now a starter himself and he needs to ‘start’ producing like one more consistently.

“He’s got to keep working,” Joseph said. “Being an every-down player is different than being a part-time player. It’s what [CB Bradley] Roby went through. You want to be the starter, but it comes with responsibility. He has to continue to work his craft in route running and catching the ball and blocking in assignments. He’ll get there, he’s a special talent. It takes time sometimes.”

That’s the important takeaway; Sutton is a special talent. And what’s more, he’s a high-character, high-football IQ player. Joseph is publicly challenging his young player, likely in an effort to motivate him and its not the first time post-Thomas.

gettyimages 1050838576 Joseph Again Publicly Challenges Sutton: He Didn’t Play Great

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 07: Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with his teammates after scoring an 8 yard touchdown against the New York Jets during the first quarter in the game at MetLife Stadium on October 07, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Joseph called out Sutton following his first career start in Week 9 for his conditioning, but there was a rhyme and a reason. Joseph did so again on Monday, but in the same breath, the coach was quick to compliment his young wideout, and show his support and faith in the rookie’s ability.

What that should tell every Broncos fan is that it might not be tomorrow, but Courtland Sutton will turn the corner. And when he does, watch out. This kid has the potential and ability to take over the game like some of the great No. 1 wideouts of the modern NFL — like Megatron, Fitzgerald, Thomas, Jones and Marshall.

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