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Broncos' J-Mac attacks quarterbacks as a blitzer

Former East Carolina Pirate helped engineer team's defensive U-turn
Broncos Chargers Football
Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-14 20:42:55-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sorry Johnny Depp. My apologies Captain Hook. Please forgive me, Willie Stargell. My new favorite Pirate is Ja’Quan McMillian.

The former East Carolina Pirate has procured a prominent role in the Broncos' defense, spending the past two months pillaging quarterbacks.

The 23-year-old has helped engineer the Broncos' dramatic U-turn. Since Week 6, the Broncos rank first in third-down percentage (27.7 percent), second in points per game (16.0) and tops in takeaways (19). Denver also boasts 14 sacks over the past four weeks. J-Mac continues to create havoc for quarterbacks with his fast and curious pressure.

“(Defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph) let me know early in the week that he was going to get me to blitz more,” said McMillian of the Chargers game, where he posted a sack and five tackles in the win. “I was excited about it. I was able to make some plays. Other guys made some plays. It was a good thing. Everybody was flying around. The six sacks were my favorite part as guys were getting after the quarterback.”

McMillian plays with energy, attitude and confidence. His stats articulately explain his impact since he took over as the starting nickelback following the Dolphins Debacle, replacing Essang Bassey. McMillian is one of two NFL players with multiple sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

“It’s not by surprise because he puts it out there on the practice field every day,” All-Pro cornerback Pat Surtain II said recently. “When the game comes, and he makes a big play, it is expected. He holds himself to a high standard. When you have a guy like him, it brings up everybody. He’s a game changer.”

He is also a record breaker. In only 12 games, McMillian owns the franchise record with seven tackles for a loss by a defensive back. He has a knack for getting loose and getting into the backfield.

It seems easy enough: unleash a free defender and sit back and watch the destruction. It is not. Defensive backs did not grow up rushing the quarterback. There is nuance that has paid off for McMillian.

“It’s timing. It’s instinct. It’s speed. It’s his natural ability. He has a knack for feeling the (quarterback's) cadence when it’s ending. And his timing is really good. And once he’s moving, he’s fast at full speed,” Joseph said. “Like (Cardinals safety) Budda Baker, once he gets the gas, he’s full speed. And Mac is the same way.”

Watch McMillian play. He has a ruthless attitude and can navigate choppy waters, if not receivers. He is, after all, a Pirate. 


The Broncos ruled out outside linebacker Nik Bonitto (knee) and tight end Greg Dulcich (hamstring/foot). Drew Sanders will serve as the third outside linebacker behind Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper.

With Dulcich out, tight end Lucas Krull can be signed off the practice squad. The Broncos waived outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins to create a roster spot.