‘Dream Killer’ Malik Reed gives Denver Broncos’ pass rush hope

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When you get right down to it, linebacker Von Miller called the shot during the 2019 preseason.

At that time, then-rookie pass-rusher Malik Reed, who had gone undrafted, was leading the Denver Broncos in sacks, and Miller casually revealed that Reed already had a nickname.

“Dream Killer — he’s killing quarterbacks’ dreams every day,” Miller said.

Scroll forward to today and Reed is second on the team in sacks — just half a sack behind Bradley Chubb. It has been Reed, a largely unheralded player from the University of Nevada, who has been asked to fill in for the likes of Chubb and Miller in back-to-back seasons.

Last season, when Chubb suffered a torn ACL in Week 4, Reed found himself making the jump from developmental player to the rotation at outside linebacker. This season, after Miller suffered an ankle injury just before the opener, Reed has been a key piece in the still-evolving pass-rush puzzle.

With a sack of rookie Justin Herbert during Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Reed upped his season total to five, all in the past three games, including two on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Reed ranks in the NFL’s top 13 for sacks, tucked between players such as Aldon Smith and Yannick Ngakoue.

“He comes to work every day,” Chubb said. “I texted him after [the loss to the Chiefs] and told him, ‘You’re a true pro, you do everything right, you do everything coaches ask you to do.’ … Malik’s one of those guys that I look up to. He’s in the same room as me writing everything down and I look over there and it makes me want to get on my game a little bit more. Having him come on like this is special because you saw it brewing throughout last season and for it to come to fruition now is amazing.”2

Reed is yet another undrafted find for the Broncos, who have made a habit of identifying gems for almost two decades. When cornerback Essang Bassey made the 53-man roster after this year’s abbreviated training camp, it was the 16th time in the past 17 seasons that at least one undrafted rookie had made the roster on the initial cut to 53 players.

Safety Kareem Jackson, now in his 11th season, said he had seen Reed make a “huge leap” this season as only Chubb has played more snaps at outside linebacker than Reed’s 309 in seven games. And Reed has played beyond his “measurables” of height, weight and speed, or at least beyond what many personnel executives thought.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder, was not invited to the 2019 scouting combine after he had played outside linebacker just one season at Nevada.

“He’s just a guy who’s gotten more comfortable in the scheme,” said Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. “Him and Bradley [Chubb] together, I think when they’re both triggering — that helps. He’s a powerful and explosive guy. When you look at him, he’s not a very tall guy, he’s not extremely fast, but this guy is a football player. He can react while things are happening in front of him and he has that ability to maneuver and get to the passer.”

Said Reed: “I feel like a lot from what I learned last year with having a lot of responsibility early on is to be ready for any opportunity that you get. Make sure you stay ready. … Just making sure that you watch each and every play so that when you see it in the game you know how to react and how to attack the offense at will.”

Reed’s five sacks have come against Cam Newton, Mahomes and Herbert. The Broncos, who at 3-4 have a chance to creep to the .500 mark for the first time since December 2018, now face the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Raiders’ Derek Carr, Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa, the Saints’ Drew Brees, Mahomes, the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater over the next seven games.

Of those seven quarterbacks, five (Ryan, Mahomes, Bridgewater, Allen and Brees) are currently among the league’s top 12 in passing yards. Pressure will be a premium for the Broncos, which means they will once again turn to Reed.

“Malik’s another young player that we all thought had ability, even last year when I saw him in training camp just seeing him pass rush off the edge,” Jackson said. “I think he’s taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s always had ability but he’s just maximizing his opportunity and he’s doing some great things for our defense right now.”