Is Von Miller the greatest Broncos defender of all-time?

Von Miller. Credit: Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports.
Von Miller. Credit: Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports.

Von Miller is a real monster on the edge for any quarterback he lines up against.

And, for the tackles tasked with trying to block him, too.

Ever since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick back in 2011, Miller has earned almost every accolade possible for a defender. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, he’s an eight-time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl MVP and as of this week, a 2010s All-Decade Team member.

Now that’s a resume, and he’s not even done yet.

Rewind and zoom into his achievements and they’re all the more impressive. As a rookie, the “Vonster” racked up 11.5 sacks and forced three fumbles, edging out J.J. Watt and others for that AP DRoY award. In 2012, he was named All-Pro for the first time, and the Broncos’ superstar had a chance to take home another trophy; this time, the Defensive Player of the Year. However, even his career-high 18.5-sacks, coupled with six forced fumbles and a pick-6 weren’t enough to edge out his old rival, Watt.

2013 was injury-shortened for Miller, the only time in his storied career he didn’t make a Pro Bowl. He also missed out in playing Super Bowl XLVIII with Denver, an embarrassing blowout even he couldn’t have changed.

But, missing that Super Bowl may have ignited something inside of him; he bounced back in 2014 and eventually helped lead Denver’s No. 1 defense back to the Super Bowl in 2015.

That regular season, Miller was still a star even with “only” 11 sacks, but the postseason is where he cemented his legacy. In the AFC Championship Game, the “Vonster” was all over legendary quarterback Tom Brady, sacking him 2.5 times while hitting him four times total and picking off Brady, too. While the Broncos were the No. 1 seed that year, everyone was fearful of Brady and Bill Belichick, but Miller and the “No Fly Zone” helped Denver back to the big game.

That’s where he did it again, terrorized an otherworldly quarterback in Cam Newton. Remember that Newton was unstoppable in 2015, winning the MVP for scoring 35 touchdowns through the air and another 10 with his legs. But there was Miller, strip-sacking Newton twice in Super Bowl 50, on his way to winning Super Bowl MVP.

Since then, the Broncos have been in a playoff drought but Miller has still be producing; seasons of 13.5, 10, 14.5 and 8 sacks. Last year was his lowest total since that injury-shortened 2013 season, and all signs point to him being hungry to come back strong once again in 2020.

And, it’s not just that he gets to the quarterback, Miller is no one-trick pony. He can power straight through even the biggest of offensive tackles, or stunt inside to trick them, or even spin-move in front of them thanks to DeMarcus Ware’s tutelage. But, Miller’s most deadly weapon in his speed around the edge, leaving tackles looking like they’re stuck in the turf.

The only thing out there for him is Defensive Player of the Year, an award he’s aiming for this season.

Notable Broncos defenders

5. Chris Harris Jr. was just named to the 2010s All-Decade Team alongside Miller and will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Broncos history, too. Harris is a different kind of special story considering he had to overcome being an undrafted free agent, while Miller was highly-touted coming out of college. “Strap” Harris was a shut-down cornerback for nearly his entire time in Denver, but the aging star has moved onto California where he’ll continue to build his resume in search of a Hall of Fame nod.

4. Champ Bailey played for Denver from 2004-2013, including his glory days as an NFL cornerback. This is no offense to Harris, but Bailey was the better player at his peak in Denver. In Champ’s second and third years in the Mile High City, he put up seasons of eight and then 10 interceptions; he was the definition of lockdown cornerback. Putting Champ on an island wasn’t an issue for him, and he was so skilled that quarterbacks started going away from him after that 2006 season. Nothing can be a higher compliment for a corner than being able to literally shut down one half of the field.

3. Karl Mecklenburg was the leader of the 80s ERA Broncos defenses who helped John Elway compete in three Super Bowls during the decade. “Meck” doesn’t get nearly the attention and admiration he deserves for being an absolute game-wrecker back in the 80s. He was a three-time All-Pro like Miller, a tackling machine who racked up 13 sacks and five forced fumbles in 1985.

2. Steve Atwater played in Denver from 1989-1998 and was a feared safety patrolling the secondary for receivers trying to make catches. He was an extremely hard-hitting safety and, really, a player of a bygone era as rules have changed over the last 20 years. The “Smilin’ Assassin” was known for his monstrous hits, like the one on Christian Okaye which basically ended his career, sticking the behemoth running back in the hole and sending him backwards. Like Miller, Atwater shined in the Super Bowl. His was Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos’ franchise’s first win, and he was instrumental in strip-sacking legend Brett Favre as well as breaking up a deep pass late in the game which sent him, a Packers receiver and a fellow defender out of the game.

1. It has to be Von Miller.

Honorable mentions: Randy Gradishar, Dennis Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Steve Foley, Louis Wright, Tom Jackson.

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