Vic Fangio is famously averse to chewing tape. He’s also known to be quite honest, no matter how hard the truth bashes you over the head.
Those two qualities collided when the Denver Broncos’ head coach was asked about rookie linebacker Malik Reed, who made the Broncos‘ 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent. And who was invisible in Fangio’s eyes up until late April.
“I didn’t have any expectations because I didn’t watch any of his college tape,” he admitted to reporters amid Saturday’s press conference announcing the final roster. “I’d like to tell you it was my signing and I recommended it, but I had nothing to do with that. That was John [Elway] and the guys in personnel. He just kept getting better and kept showing that he could be good enough. He continued on that track and become good enough. I like the fact that he likes to play physical and he has good instincts in pass rush. [He] still has some development to do in coverage and things like that, but he’s the right kind of guy with the right kind of temperament.”
Fangio missed a heck of a career from the Nevada product, billed as a possible mid-round choice after totaling 203 tackles (134 solo), 38.5 tackles for loss, 22 sacks and 11 forced fumbles across 42 career games from 2015-18. He was a first-team All-Mountain West selection in 2017 and 2016.
Reed’s tweener size (6-1, 237) and perceived inconsistencies ultimately sunk his draft status, much to Denver’s delight. They scooped him as a UDFA and immediately stuck him behind Miller, Bradley Chubb and Holland as the No. 4 OLB, replacing free-agent departures Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett.
It took exactly one preseason contest for Reed to leapfrog Holland (and force his release); he posted four tackles (two solo), a tackle for loss, sack and quarterback hit in the Broncos’ victory over the Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game. The effort came as little surprise to those who had been paying attention.
“We call him the dream killer,” Miller said on Aug. 22. “He’s killing quarterback’s dreams every single day. He’s a great guy. He’s humble. He just wants to go out there and play football and go out there and make plays. I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Malik. I want to see him do great. He kind of reminds me of Shaquil. Shaq came in here super talented and was trying to find a way to play and we all saw out how that worked out for Shaq. Malik is a great pass rusher and I’m excited for him. I’m excited to see his growth.”
Elway Complimentary of Reed
Broncos general manager John Elway has a knack for turning over UDFA rocks and discovering gems — from cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to running back C.J. Anderson. His latest find is Reed, who finished the exhibition period with 10 tackles and four quarterback takedowns.
“Malik really had a good preseason,” Elway said. “I think he had to sacks last week, and obviously he’s a guy that cares about football and it means a lot to him. He earned the spot. When we have 90 guys, you come in and try to figure out how to find the best 53 and Malik did hell of a job.”
Reed’s 2019 Role
Obviously, Denver is set along its edges, boasting a future Hall of Famer (Miller) and legitimate All-Pro candidate (Chubb) in Fangio’s pressure-heavy defense. But they’re wide open behind them with only Reed and fifth-round rookie Justin Hollins, who’s doubling as an off-ball ‘backer.
Reed should be the first player off the bench when Miller or Chubb require a breather. He figures to rotate in on sub-packages, as well, giving the Broncos an additional pass-rusher for their yet-to-be-renamed NASCAR package.
READ NEXT: Broncos Surprisingly Cut Veteran Quarterback
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL