DENVER — From undrafted rookie free agent to key contributor, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Malik Reed has the bar set even higher heading into the 2021 NFL season.
In 2020, the NFL and NFLPA mutually agreed upon eliminating preseason games ahead of the start of the season, a move that was viewed in two different lights.
With the lack of a true offseason program to get players’ bodies right for the physical toll a 16 game season takes on them, there was a benefit for not throwing players directly onto the practice field and then straight into a game within two weeks of training camp beginning. On the other hand, young players who received training camp invitations from teams directly after the NFL Draft would have a shorter window to impress coaches and those in the personnel department.
Luckily for Reed, his NFL journey began as an undrafted rookie free agent coming out of Nevada where he spent four seasons harassing opposing quarterbacks. During his college career, Reed registered 203 tackles and generated 22 sacks. He came into training camp in 2019 at the UCHealth Training Center with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to learn and grow along the way. The Denver Broncos had just hired Vic Fangio as their next coach, and Reed would be entering a position room that featured two former first-round selections in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
It didn’t take long for Reed to catch the eye of Fangio and then-position coach Brandon Staley, who now is the head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. During the team’s positional period, Reed intently watched Miller and Chubb as they went through Staley’s drills, observing how they did things, but adding his own style to it, and always making it a point to go after the Broncos' two starting pass rushers.
“It was really about staying focused, taking each day for what it was, and it was an opportunity to get better, to learn, to grow, get everything that I could by asking questions," Reed said. "With Von, watching things that he did and trying to implement them into my own game and how I could do it."
Getting the opportunity to learn from a potential future first-ballot Hall of Fame pass rusher was special, but Reed wanted to learn from Miller and also build on his own traits that could create an impact for the Broncos defense.
“Von’s going to be Von and I’m going to be me. I feel like you have to do things your own way, you can learn things from guys, but you have to put your own spin on it. But I definitely learned a lot from Von and Coach Staley that year, and this past year learning a lot of things from Chubb too as well,” Reed explained.
The studying and learning paid off for Reed in both 2019 and 2020.
During the 2019 pre-season, he tallied four sacks in just three games and saw his first career multi-sack game in the team’s preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals, where he brought down the opposing quarterback twice to help the team secure a 20-7 win. The Broncos coaching staff saw all that they needed to see as Reed made the team’s 53-man roster, where they hoped they could develop him along the way.
Four games into the Broncos' regular-season schedule, second-year pass rusher Bradley Chubb tore his ACL against the Jacksonville Jaguars, casting a gloomy cloud over Dove Valley as the Broncos dropped to 0-4. Chubb’s injury forced the team to accelerate the process of Reed’s development by placing him in a rotational role on defense opposite Von Miller. Reed would start eight games for the Broncos, appearing in 15 in 2019, where he would emerge as a promising future piece of the defense. In his 15 games of action, Reed contributed two QB sacks, 27 tackles, four tackles for a loss, a fumble recovery and five quarterback hits.
Fangio and the Broncos had a promising player hidden beneath their wings.
Fast forward to 2020, the Broncos began their preparation for their week 1 opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Once again, the injury bug struck Denver prior to their season opener as Miller would suffer a dislocated peroneal tendon in his ankle that would end his season before it even began.
Reed found himself in a familiar position and would make the most of his on-field opportunities. He didn’t get the start in week 1, but found himself rotating series’ with veteran pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu. When Malik found himself on the field, he capitalized by creating consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Reed’s first-step and quickness off the line of scrimmage was something that he sharpened each week, finishing the season with 53 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, eight sacks and 17 total QB hits.
Everybody was truly tested in 2020, while Chubb's return added an extra element to Reed's experience.
“Chubb is just like a brother, it’s a different dynamic, and you could see the happiness we had for each other’s success, and how we continued to try to push each other to be better and keep each other encouraged throughout the game. It was great to have that type of energy out there on the field, and you could tell it was genuine with him,” Reed said.
Malik’s focus now shifts toward his third season in the NFL with the desire to keep improving and growing along the way.
“You said 8 sacks this year? This year it would be great to set that bar to double-digits, more tackles, more TFL’s, quarterback hits, just keep setting that bar high and watch God work because without him none of this would be possible, and I wouldn’t be in this position and I know he has me here for a purpose and for a reason," Reed said. "You have to believe in yourself and believe in what you can do out there and that you’re able to accomplish those goals.”
The bar is set even higher for Reed in 2021 as he continues to train and prepare this off-season where he and the Broncos are hoping to find more success on Sunday’s this upcoming season.