With less than a week before the start of the NFL season, the Denver Broncos defense suffered a season-altering injury. Von Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP and leader of the Broncos defense, sustained an ankle injury in the team’s Tuesday practice.
Miller’s ankle injury will likely keep him out for the season, as it requires surgery. After losing Bradley Chubb for the 2019 season, the Broncos were excited to have their electric pass-rush duo back for the 2020 season but will have to wait another year. We’ll be taking a look at some players who could fill the void for the Broncos in the wake of the Miller ankle injury.
Malik Reed steps up to the plate
Asking a rookie to step up every once in awhile is one thing, but asking a second-year undrafted free agent to fill the shoes of a Super Bowl MVP is another. That’s exactly what head coach Vic Fangio is going to be asking of the second-year Nevada product, Malik Reed.
After Reed made the Broncos final roster in 2019, he went on to play in 15 games, starting eight and recording 2.0 sacks, along with five quarterback hits. Now, it appears that Reed is going to be pushed into a lot more action earlier in the season.
Having players like Miller, Chubb, and Jeremiah Attaochu on the sidelines, helping the young pass rusher will benefit his game immensely. Still, Reed is going to have to step up his game tremendously. Reed came into the 2020 training camp eager to advance his knowledge in Fangio’s scheme and hungry to find work.
It will be a challenging task to fill Miller’s shoes, as Miller regularly commands chips, double-teams and is very disruptive in both the passing and running game. Reed likely won’t get the same type of attention, but with Chubb on the opposite edge and with Jurrell Casey disrupting things inside, Reed may be able to take advantage of more one-on-one opportunities.
Losing Justin Hollins hurts now more than ever
When the Broncos waived 2019 fifth-round linebacker Justin Hollins, over the weekend, the team had no idea how soon they would require his services. After being claimed by the Los Angeles Rams, Hollins reunites with his former linebackers coach Brandon Staley and will add more depth to the Rams linebacker room.
The Broncos, now without their star pass rusher, will undoubtedly be reeling after letting the versatile linebacker go. Hollins had been slated to play both an inside and outside role, especially after the team lost rookie Justin Strnad for the season with a wrist injury.
Bringing in a veteran presence to replace Miller
There is no way to replace a talent like Miller, but the Broncos are in serious need of a pass rusher, and there are a few players out there that could fit the bill for Denver.
The return of the prodigal son
A former first-round draft pick of the Broncos, Shane Ray, has been exclusively working out with Miller during the last few offseasons and is looking to revitalize his career. Miller’s ankle injury could be Ray’s key back into the league and Denver.
The Missouri product had a bright future with the Broncos but had issues staying healthy and could not seem to break out as a legitimate starter. Ray started only 15 out of 49 games played in his four seasons in Denver and recorded 14.0 sacks, including 8.0 in 2016. Ray could fill in as a possible rotational pass rusher and could get the personal recommendation from Miller.
Could the Broncos sign a veteran pass rusher?
All signs do point to the Broncos bringing in a veteran edge rusher before their Week 1 matchup with the Tennessee Titans, but with a limited market and obstacles to get around, it doesn’t appear as easy as it seems. Multiple names have been mentioned as possible Miller replacements, including 31-year old Ezekiel Ansah, who spent last season with Seattle.
Another option is 38-year old Cameron Wake, who played in nine games with Tennessee last season. Finally, the Broncos could consider 37-year old Terrell Suggs, who ended up winning a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs last season and finished his 2019 year with 6.5 sacks between Arizona and Kansas City. While some of these names could bring another veteran presence to the team, their age and production are concerning.
According to PFN Insider Ben Allbright, Denver could be looking at adding a former Fangio player to the mix in linebacker Isaiah Irving. Irving played under Fangio in Chicago in 2017 and 2018, recording a single sack in 20 games played.
Whatever direction the Broncos go after Miller’s ankle injury, the team will need that player to help make as much of an impact for the defense as they can and make it happen quickly.