ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Von Miller and Bradley Chubb prepare to reunite as the team's outside rushers for the first time since early in the 2019 season, there's plenty of optimism surrounding the potential of the Broncos' pass-rushing group.
In 2018, their lone full season together, the two players combined for 26.5 sacks, which was among the highest total for a duo in the league.
The Broncos, though, may have another player who is critical to their pass-rushing success.
A season ago, second-year undrafted player Malik Reed led the team in sacks as he recorded eight quarterback takedowns. Even with Miller and Chubb in the fold, Reed should still play a critical role in the team's pass-rush rotation.
"It's really going for it all," Reed said on Thursday of his goals for 2021. "No limits. Never put a limit. There's no limit to what God can do, so I never put a limit on what he can do through me. My goal is to consistently get better, and 10 sacks would be a step up. I'm not putting a cap there, so keep going. Ten is a great goal. I'm pushing to get there, but I'm not going to put a cap on it either. I'm going for it all this year."
Reed's progression is reminiscent of another former undrafted player who found success in Denver: Shaquil Barrett.
The Colorado State product spent a year on the Broncos' practice squad before he started six games in 2015. Barrett recorded 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles that season as the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. He wouldn't reach those totals again, but he continued to be a valuable player as he started nine games for the team and recorded four sacks and two forced fumbles in 2017.
When the team drafted Chubb with the fifth-overall pick in 2018, Barrett remained a reserve player for the year before signing a deal with the Buccaneers.
Barrett responded by making his first career Pro Bowl as he led the NFL in sacks in 2019 with 19.5. He followed that campaign with eight more sacks in 2020, and he's become a player that Reed said he studies because of their similarities.
Reed also watched film of Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Chandler Jones, T.J. Watt and Aaron Donald as he looked to improve his game.
"We get the sack tape every week," Reed said. "It has all the sacks from around the league. That's something I'll watch throughout the week and try to see how they are affecting the game."
Reed, though, said he particularly admires Barrett's path and would be happy to emulate his success.
"Shaq was a guy that knew what he could do every time he stepped on the field," Reed said. "When he got his opportunities, he showed what he could do. Even what he did on the field, I felt like he was still doubted in ways. He had to go out there and consistently show what he can do every time he touched the field. He has turned into one of the best pass rushers in the league to be honest. He knew that on the inside, and he knew who he was. That's important — the belief in yourself, the belief in your abilities and what you can do takes you beyond what anybody else can ever say what you can or can't be.
"I look up to a guy like that and the path he's taken to where he's gotten. It's something I want to strive toward. You want to strive toward people that have had his success through trials, through tribulations and tough situations. Those are the guys that have something else beyond football. I feel like character — character will take you way farther than talent will. That's something he really honed in on and made a part of who he is. That's something I want to strive towards as well."
Perhaps Reed's story will end differently than Barrett's and can see him find success in Denver. As Miller enters the final year of his contract, perhaps its possible that a strong season from Reed could lead the Broncos to give him a more elevated role in the future.
For now, though, Reed will enjoy the benefit that all three players being on the field together can provide.
"We saw a little bit of it [during] my first year and getting to go through training camp with them," Reed said. "Having a package where they have three of us on the field — Von, Chubb and me on the field at the same time — I think we did some great things out of that package. We were able to affect the game. I remember we ran it a lot in the Jacksonville Jaguars game [in Week 4 of 2019]. I think we ended up coming out with [five] sacks. I felt like we were able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and it was tough for the other team and the other offensive line to pick up where each person was coming from.
"It's just playing off each other. When you have guys like that who impact the game in such a way where they have to game plan for them each and every week and then come in and just be able to play a game, it's amazing."