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Mile High Monday: Is 2020 the end of the road for Jake Butt in Denver?

(Photo by Bart Young / Getty Images)

The NFL news never stops. The virtual offseason continues, but there’s plenty to talk about and write about when it comes to American football.

The NFL has done a good job of making their sport relevant in 11 months of the year. July is a slow time every year, but we have a month to go before things take a break before training camp.

I like looking forward to the 2020 season and how much improvement we should see from the Broncos this year. It’s playoffs or bust for a team who hasn’t had a winning record since 2016. With the expanded playoff format, I believe it’s realistic to have those type of expectations for the Broncos.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Splits with Lock

Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton caught 22 of his 40 targets for 280 yards and two touchdowns in five games with Drew Lock as the starting quarterback in 2019. In his 11 other games, Sutton hauled in 50 of his 84 targets for 832 yards and four TDs. Sutton was able to go over 1,000 yards receiving in 2019 and he did that with three different quarterbacks.

Lock was clearly the best quarterback Sutton played with last year and extrapolating his numbers with Lock over a 16-game season creates some interesting data points.

The main data point is that he wouldn’t be over 1,000 yards if he continued his production with Lock. Sutton would’ve had 896 yards and six touchdowns instead of the 1,112 yards and six touchdowns he had in 2019.

So, what happened when Lock was in the lineup to cause a lower per-game average for Sutton’s receiving yards? The answer is simple, the Broncos didn’t have many options outside of Sutton to go to at the wide receiver position.

After the team traded away Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers, Sutton was regularly double- and triple-covered by opposing defenses. Teams were daring Lock to go elsewhere as Sutton was buttoned down by multiple defenders.

Enter Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. These two rookies will help open things up for Sutton in 2020. In fact, we could see them help Sutton produce career-best numbers this season.

Look at Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, a player I compared Sutton to when he came out of SMU in 2018. Evans has always been a 1,000-yard receiver in six consecutive seasons, but his best season (2018) came with the emergence of other quality targets like Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Evans went over 1,500 yards receiving that year, largely due to his natural talent, but also due to the fact that other receivers helped keep defenses honest.

Could Sutton have that sort of surge in production? I’m not projecting him for 1,500 yards, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen. I think Sutton is good for at least 1,200 yards this year as he continues to show why he’s one of the best up-and-coming stars in the NFL.

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Moving On Up

The Broncos named Matt Russell as their new vice president of player personnel on Friday. He had previously served as the team’s college scouting director from 2009 to 2012 and their director of player personnel since then.

“Matt has always been a big part of it and he’s always had a big voice,” John Elway said in a statement about the move. “He’s been right there. He’s running the personnel side, so he’s heavily involved on the pro side, as well as the college side and the draft. Matt has always had a big voice with me and he’ll continue to have that.”

The Broncos are on the right track, and a large reason why is the efforts of the scouting staff. Russell has been a big part of how the Broncos build their roster, and the team is coming off back-to-back-to-back quality draft classes which should make the Broncos contenders in the near future.

By the end of the 2019 season, Denver had the third-youngest roster (25 years, 264 days) and second-youngest offense (25 years, 237 days) in the NFL. The Broncos led the league last season in the number of offensive players (14) and combined games started (88) among players who appeared in two or fewer seasons.

Congratulations to Russell and the rest of the Broncos scouting staff who were promoted at the end of last week. Their efforts are not going unnoticed and they are helping to get this team back on the right track.

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Running Out of Chances

Broncos tight end Jake Butt (knee) told the Denver Post on Friday that he is doing well after missing the entire 2019 campaign following knee surgery and has been working out on his own. He also said he’s ready to prove the team right for waiting on him after playing just three games since being drafted in 2017.

“It’s not a guarantee; they’re not telling me I’m making the team by any stretch or rolling out the red carpet,” Butt said. “I still have to go out there and work and earn it. But the fact they’re standing by me and giving me an opportunity, it obviously means the world to me and I’m going to try and go out there and prove them right and prove myself right.”

Butt displayed first-round talent during his college career at Michigan, but he fell to the fifth round due to a knee injury suffered in his final game for the Wolverines. Since that knee injury, Butt has two more knee injuries that have limited him to only a small handful of snaps in his pro career.

He’s a long-shot to make the 53-man roster this year. The Broncos have Noah Fant as their starting tight end and he should get plenty of work. Behind him, free agent Nick Vannett should work as the blocking tight end. The third-string tight end, rookie Albert Okwuegbunam, should be a presence in the red zone. Behind those three, Andrew Beck should make the team due to his ability to play tight end, H-back, fullback and play on special teams.

Butt is a great person and has worked diligently to try and make it in the NFL. I give him a lot of credit for fighting through these injuries when plenty of other young men would’ve just given up. However, Butt is unlikely to make the team this year and may have to continue his pro career – if he stays healthy – somewhere else.

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Long Time Coming

On Saturday, I was able to get my hands on a comic book that I have wanted for quite some time. I went to see my buddy James Farnsworth, owner of All C’s Collectibles in Aurora, so I could talk shop. I also went to All C’s so I could get some comic books graded by CBCS who was on site for book submission.

I like to watch the comic book market and flip books based on movie/TV show hype that inflates prices, so grading books is an important part of making the most money in that venture as possible. During this stay-at-home period, the collectible market has been booming. Whether it’s sports cards or comic books, these items are drawing premium prices as people look to find investments they can count on.

Take for example what’s happening with Star Wars memorabilia because of the Disney-plus show “The Mandalorian.” Star Wars comic books from the 1970s and ’80s are starting to skyrocket, and I had to fill out my collection when I found a good-looking copy of Star Wars No. 1 on the shelf. I had been looking for this issue my whole life. As a Star Wars collector, I have a copy of this issue, but it’s a second printing of the book that I got back in the ’90s.

Finding this copy brought a smile to my face, as this issue is one of my “holy grail” comics that I’ve been searching for. I will be sending this off to get pressed, cleaned and graded, but it’s not to flip. This issue is for my personal collection, and I’m super happy to have picked it up after years of looking for the right one.

What are some of your favorite collectibles? Do you collect comic books and sports cards like I do? Hit me up on social media and let me know!