Cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian's rise from a second-year special teams player to one of the key contributors for one of the hottest defenses in the NFL has been a remarkable and welcome development for the Broncos. But has it been a surprise to McMillian? Not quite.
McMillian has been a game-changer during the Broncos' winning streak, as he's intercepted Patrick Mahomes, forced a fumble on the Bills' opening drive in Week 10 and recorded a pair of takeaways on "Sunday Night Football" against Minnesota. On Monday, McMillian explained that generating turnovers and playing aggressively has always been a part of his game.
"I've done it at every level," McMillian said. "Just doing it at this level at the big stages is a blessing. I've got to keep doing what I'm doing and keep doing my job."
Head Coach Sean Payton said on Monday that McMillian's opportunistic play has had a multiplier effect on a defense that has recorded at least three takeaways in each of the past three games.
"There are certain players, and the ball finds them," Payton said. "He seems to have some of those traits. [I'm] proud of how he's played and how he's worked. His enthusiasm is kind of contagious, and I think he's brought a lot to the defense."
In the opening weeks of the season, McMillian played limited defensive snaps and was primarily a special teams contributor. He saw his first extensive action this season in Week 4 against the Bears and has played at least 45 percent of the defensive snaps in every game since. Against the Chiefs and Bills, McMillian played more than 95 percent of Denver's defensive snaps.
An undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2022, McMillian has made a name for himself with his penchant for generating takeaways. In the past three games, McMillian has accounted for four turnovers, which have made the difference in two- and one-point Denver victories the past two weeks, respectively.
"When you're doing stuff right and you're just doing your job, the ball is going to find you and the football gods are going to bless you," McMillian said. "I just try to keep [doing] what I'm supposed to do, do my job and the plays will come. I just depend on my help or the defense and do what the coaches ask me to do. They're going to put me in the right position every time, and the ball is going to continue to find me."
McMillian described his playing style as physical and fast, and he has become adept at using his hands to evade blockers and compensate for his 5-foot-10, 183-pound frame.
Versatility at the nickel position has also become one of McMillian's strengths. A Nov. 16 article on NFL.com named McMillian as one of the league's 10 best slot corners and praised his contributions in pass and run defense.
"The nickel spot, you have to be big on communication," McMillian said. "… I always tell the guys [that] I'm playing three different positions. I'm playing the cornerback, I'm playing the linebacker at times and also the safety too. So I would say the biggest thing is the communication part and really just the run fits as the linebacker at times of the game. That's probably the main difference."