Back on May 2, the Broncos inked a batch of seven college free agents. This was the second group they had signed after the draft, joining the 10 that had picked Denver after not being selected in the 2019 NFL Draft just days earlier.
That made for 17 players who were looking to join a distinct fraternity in the Mile High City. Seemingly every year, an undrafted free agent stands out during training camp, plays well in preseason games and makes the Broncos final 53-man roster. A year ago, it was Phillip Lindsay. In 2011, it was Chris Harris Jr. And in between, it was players like Shaq Barrett who defied the odds.
So the odds were good that one of the group of 17 would continue the tradition. And early in training camp, there were plenty of candidates who looked like they were ready to be the one.
Trinity Benson and Kelvin McKnight had some good days at wide receiver, especially early on when Emmanuel Sanders was still sidelined. Josh Watson got a look at middle linebacker when Todd Davis and Josey Jewell went down with injuries. And Austin Fort was pushing for a spot in a crowded tight end group before suffering a torn ACL last Thursday in a preseason loss to Seattle.
But one player has emerged as the odd-on favorite to become this year’s UDFA to make the final roster – Malik Reed. From day one, the outside linebacker has impressed teammates and coaches. And unlike some of his fellow rookies, the outside linebacker from Nevada has managed to keep the momentum going week after week.
In the Hall of Fame Game, Reed was one of the Broncos defensive standouts. In Denver’s 14-10 win over Atlanta, the linebacker recorded two tackles, two assists, a sack and a tackle for a loss. After the game, he earned a lot of praise.
“I see Malik out here every day; me and Von (Miller) both knew that he was going to be a ‘dog’ out there,” Bradley Chubb said about his teammate. “We were excited for it.”
The second-year linebacker had been working with the rookie throughout training camp, knowing that Reed had the skills to play in the NFL.
“Malik rides home with me every day after practice,” Chubb explained. “I’m just in his ear, ‘This is what they expect. This is what they want.’ I’m glad to see him doing his thing. I feel like those words sunk in a little bit. So, it’s been fun watching him grow.”
His head coach has also seen the development.
“He’s been doing well all camp,” Vic Fangio said after the Hall of Fame Game. “In fact, on the play he got his sack, I said to the coaches on the phone, ‘Well, that’s what he’s been doing all camp.’ So I’m not surprised that it happened in the game.”
That strong play continued in the Broncos second exhibition, as Reed put up good numbers against the Seahawks, as well. At game’s end, he had posted another three tackles, one assist, a sack and a tackle of a loss.
Back-to-back strong efforts transformed Reed from a no-name rookie to a player who many expect to make the team. It also allowed Denver to feel comfortable enough with him at outside linebacker to waive Jeff Holland earlier this week.
On Monday at training camp, Reed was the center of attention. Suddenly, the little-known undrafted free agent was generating a lot of buzz.
“He likes to hit people, which is job description number one for an NFL linebacker,” Fangio said after practice, when asked about Reed. “He’s got good instincts and good feel.”
Meanwhile, the rookie is trying to take all of the attention in stride. As the media gathered around him after practice, Reed deflected praise in every possible direction.
“It’s all a credit to the coaching staff that we have here and the veterans that have been around,” he said when asked how he’s been able to make the adjustment to the NFL so seamlessly. “They have been able to help him with whatever I need, so it’s been a blessing.”
Specifically, he was thankful for the help he’s received from his fellow linebackers.
“It’s been a blessing to have Von, Chubb, Dekoda (Watson), all the older guys in there helping,” Reed explained. “Every time I come out to the field, if I have a question about anything or what I’m seeing out there or how to adjust to something, they are right there to help me out.”
As for keeping things rolling, Reed has a simple formula for continuing to play well.
“I just want to bring more heart, hard work and effort in each and every play,” he said about the remaining weeks of training camp and three preseason games left on the Broncos schedule. “I just try to stay focused on taking it one day at the time, one play at the time. I just try to stay focused and get better every day.”
If he follows that formula, there’s a good chance Malik Reed will keep a long-standing tradition alive in Denver. Right now, he looks poised to become the latest undrafted free agent to crack the Broncos roster.