The Broncos have a history of getting production from undrafted rookies, and they may have something in the outside linebacker they call “Dream Killer.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The list represents hope. The list represents optimism. And Malik Reed wants his name on it.
For 14 of the previous 15 years, the Denver Broncos have exited the preseason with at least one undrafted rookie on the 53-man roster. The list includes players with Super Bowl rings, Pro Bowl appearances and one guy — Wesley Woodyard — who is set to enter his 12th NFL season.
“You can see out here every day it can be done,” said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a four-time Pro Bowl selection who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2011. “You have to have belief in yourself and you have to grind, do whatever it takes. … I feel like [Reed is] doing that.”
The Broncos are just five days and one preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals away from trimming their roster to 53 players. And to this point, Reed has made plenty of good impressions.
He is tied for the team’s preseason lead in sacks with two, even though he has dealt with an oblique injury in recent weeks that has kept him out of two of the Broncos’ four games. In addition, the outside linebacker has already risen to nickname status with one of his more accomplished teammates.
“We call him the Dream Killer — he’s killing quarterbacks’ dreams every single day,” pass-rushing superstar Von Miller said. “He’s a great guy, he’s humble, he just wants to play football, he just wants to go out there and make plays. I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Malik. I want to see him do great.”
Of course, as former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith has often said of surviving roster cuts, “it’s not official until it’s official.” Injuries at other positions could dictate a variety of unexpected moves for the Broncos. But in an offseason in which they have been searching for backups to Miller and Bradley Chubb at the edge rusher spots after the departures of Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray, it is Reed and veteran Dekoda Watson who are poised to be those players, with rookie Justin Hollins seeing spot duty.
The Broncos have already waived an outside linebacker — Jeff Holland — who had split time between the roster and practice squad last season.
“[Reed] kind of reminds me of Shaquil [Barrett], Shaq, when he came in, super-talented and just trying to find a way to play,” Miller said. “We all saw how it turned out for Shaq. Mailk, he’s a great pass-rusher, and I’m excited for him. … I’m excited for his growth.”
Reed fits the profile of an undrafted rookie. It’s not that he didn’t show plenty of potential during his career at Nevada, where he played in 50 games as a three-year starter, with 22 career sacks to go with 38.5 tackles for loss.
But much like Harris did at Kansas in his final season there in 2010, Reed switched positions before his senior year. He had played as an undersized defensive lineman for three seasons — he weighed 234 pounds at his pro day this past spring and is listed at 235 pounds by the Broncos — and was moved to outside linebacker as a senior.
While the move likely helped him give scouts a look at where he would likely play in the NFL, it meant he was learning a new position in his final pre-draft season.
“I had to learn a whole new system, but I definitely feel like some of the things that I took from that experience are definitely helping me now,” Reed said. “I think it sort of expanded how I can play the game, at least hopefully it did that.”
“He likes to hit people, which is job description No. 1 for an NFL linebacker, and he’s got good instincts and good feel,” said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. “He doesn’t know everything yet. A lot of it is still new to him. He was a guy that played multiple positions in college, really never had a home there … but I like how Malik has played.”
Beyond the pass-rushing skills Reed has shown, he’s a quick study and displays some maturity in the way he goes about his business. He has spent plenty of time with Chubb, including some rides to work.
“I’m just in his ear, ‘This is what they expect. This is what they want.’ I’m glad to see him doing his thing,” Chubb said. “I feel like those words sunk in a little bit.”
“I just feel like you’ve got to have confidence whether you’re having good days or bad days,” Reed said. “You have to have confidence in yourself and that’s how you continue to grow and keep learning — just continue to believe in yourself.”