Now 32 years old, Von Miller has spent the last decade dominating offensive linemen as one of the NFL’s most feared sack artists. And thanks to his otherworldly performance against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos took him the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since 1998.
However, a lot has changed since Miller and Peyton Manning won a ring together. While the former remains an active NFL player, the latter retired after Denver achieved championship glory on Feb. 7, 2016. And after missing the entire 2020 season, Miller must prove he can stay healthy and produce at an elite level again.
Luckily for Broncos fans, the lightning-quick outside linebacker seems more motivated than ever to get back to harassing quarterbacks for a living. And based on Miller’s message about the current state of the team, it’s clear Denver possesses scary upside heading into the 2021 season.
Von Miller faces a make-or-break year in 2021
The Broncos made the right call to make Miller the second player taken in the 2011 NFL Draft. An elite athlete for the outside linebacker position, the former Texas A&M star wasted no time showcasing why only Cam Newton went ahead of him in the draft. After winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors by totaling 11.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, and 19 tackles for loss, Miller took his game to another level in his second NFL season. He earned first-team All-Pro honors after posting what turned out to be a career-high 18.5 sacks.
While an ACL tear brought an abrupt end to Miller’s third season, he picked up where he left off the following year. From 2014-18, the explosive edge rusher provided elite production despite routinely facing multiple blockers. Miller totaled 63 sacks during that span, and he stuffed the stat sheet during Denver’s 2015 Super Bowl run with 13 tackles, five sacks, six QBH, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, and one interception.
Unfortunately for Miller, the last two seasons haven’t gone as planned.
In 2019, he recorded only eight sacks and 20 QBH in 15 games. Those might be solid numbers for someone else, but Miller certainly set the bar much higher in previous years.
He didn’t get a chance to prove his 2019 season was a fluke, either. Miller suffered a dislocated peroneal tendon in practice just six days before the Broncos’ season-opening matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Despite his age and recent injury, Denver still exercised the option on the final year of Miller’s $114 million contract extension he signed in March 2016. Set to count $22.25 million against the salary cap, the veteran linebacker needs to produce big numbers to justify that kind of price.
Miller sends scary message about the current state of the Broncos
Miller faces pressure to live up to his expensive salary. But given his track record of production and intimitate knowledge of the art of rushing the passer, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back with a double-digit sack season at age 32.
And based on what Miller told Mike Klis of 9NEWS, Broncos fans should be excited about what lies ahead. And that spells bad news for teams that have to face a Denver squad that possesses scary potential heading into the 2021 season.
“This is the best team we’ve been able to field in a long time,” Miller said. “The offense is going to be ridiculous. We’ve got Courtland [Sutton], Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Albert O [Okwuegbunam]—I don’t want to go through the whole thing—Melvin Gordon and all these other big-time guys. The defense is just as stacked.”
Talent alone won’t get the job done. According to Miller’s assesment, though, the team has the right attitude to make winning a tradition again in Denver.
“A lot of guys are motivated,” the future Hall of Famer explained. “Everybody’s tired of losing. Everybody wants to win and I’m excited. Not being able to go to the playoffs the last five years, everybody’s feeling it at Dove Valley. From John Elway to G.P. [George Paton], the chefs and cooks, everybody involved. We should be highly motivated to go out here and play some good football this whole season.”
Can Denver’s dynamic pass-rushing duo lead the team back to the playoffs?
The Broncos may not be viewed as a viable Super Bowl contender right now, but they should be considered a potential playoff team. As Miller brought up, the offense features plenty of young, explosive weapons. Defenses should have a tough time matching up against the Broncos’ receiver trio of Sutton, Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler. Plus, the tight end duo of Noah Fant and Okwuegbunam looks capable of inflicting major damage across the middle of the field.
Of course, the Broncos’ playoff hopes rest largely on the right arm of third-year quarterback Drew Lock. If he can’t stake a step forward, that could force Vic Fangio to go with veteran Teddy Bridgewater.
Not exactly inspiring, right?
Luckily for the Broncos, they have one of the most talented defenses in the league. Miller and 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb should form a terrific pass-rushing tandem. Meanwhile, superstar safety Justin Simmons headlines a secondary that includes three rock-solid veterans (Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Kareem Jackson) and promising rookie Patrick Surtain II.
That unit has enough talent on all three levels to make life tough for opposing offenses. If Miller and Chubb can avoid any injury setbacks, they have the ability to take over a game. And if Denver’s defense does its job, that will take pressure off of whoever starts at quarterback. If the Broncos can get passable play out of that position, their young skill players on both sides of the ball have what it takes to carry the team to the playoffs.
All statitistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.