Pro Football Focus currently has a Denver Broncos cornerback graded as the 5th highest cornerback in the NFL. No, it’s not Patrick Surtain II, it’s former undrafted college free agent Ja’Quan McMillian.

The correlation between McMillian’s increased playing time and the overall improvement of the team’s defensive performance is no coincidence. McMillian, who spent the initial 17 games of his NFL career on the sidelines, has emerged as a standout player in the Denver Broncos’ recent victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. With a current record of 3-5, the Broncos still maintain their playoff aspirations, a realistic goal if McMillian can sustain his remarkable performance.

Small School Standout

McMillian grew up in a sports-centric family in Winston-Salem. During his early years, he dreamt of becoming a running back but switched to a defensive role when he entered high school. At West Forsyth High School, McMillian showcased his athleticism by playing three different sports, amassing six letters.

As a freshman, he secured a spot on the varsity team as the starting cornerback, sharing the field with his older brother, who was the quarterback. In his junior and senior years, he played alongside his younger brother, a wide receiver. Throughout his high school career, McMillian accumulated an impressive 22 interceptions, two of which resulted in touchdowns.

Labeled as a three-star prospect by,, and, McMillian garnered offers from universities such as Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Ultimately, he committed to East Carolina.

In his first year as a Pirate, McMillian made an immediate impact by starting in all 12 games. He led the team in pass breakups with nine and interception return yards with 52. He also recorded three interceptions and 38 total tackles while logging at least one stop in each game.

Despite a shortened 2020 season, McMillian collected 33 total tackles and four interceptions, the most among East Carolina’s players. His stellar performance earned him Second-Team All-American Athletic Conference honors.

McMillian’s best collegiate year came in 2021, where he tallied 56 total tackles and secured five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Additionally, he broke up 11 passes, recovered two fumbles, and forced one. McMillian was named as a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, an annual honor for the nation’s top college defensive back. He also received second-team All-American accolades.

Undrafted Standout

Opting not to return for his senior year, McMillian declared for the 2022 NFL Draft.

Although regarded as a Day 3 draft pick, McMillian went undrafted. However, he was quickly signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos.

In the final round of roster cuts before Week 1, McMillian was waived. The following day, though, he was signed to the practice squad. McMillian remained on the practice squad for 17 weeks. He was elevated to the active roster in Week 18, in which his NFL debut against the Los Angeles Chargers. Not only did he start, but he played in every defensive snap.

McMillian went into the 2023 preseason competing for a highly competitive backup nickel cornerback. K’Waun Williams went down with an ankle injury during training camp, and Essang Bassey was named the top nickel. After a strong performance in the preseason games, McMillian was listed on the final depth chart as Surtain’s backup.

Bassey’s poor performance in the first three games created more opportunity for McMillian, whose playing time continued to increase. He replaced Bassey as the primary nickel in Week 4; Bassey was released the following Tuesday.

Last week, McMillian recorded his first NFL interception against Patrick Mahomes in Denver’s win over Kansas City, earning him high praise from his teammates.

McMillian has solidified his presence as a vital component of the team’s revamped defensive lineup. With a challenging showdown against the Buffalo Bills looming next week, he and the entire team have the chance to demonstrate that their triumph against the Chiefs was no accident. This presents an opportunity to showcase their true potential and establish themselves as genuine contenders for a playoff spot.