The Denver Broncos have been on the 'next man up' mentality all season, and Jeremiah Attaochu has won over Vic Fangio at OLB.
When the Denver Broncos lost outside linebacker Bradley Chubb to a season-ending ACL injury, it was absolutely devastating.
Not only because the Broncos aren't quite good enough everywhere else on the roster to compensate for losing a young star like Chubb, but because Chubb is one of the foundation pieces for this roster moving forward.
As terrible as losing a player of this caliber is, injuries always open the door for other playmakers to earn their stripes, and the Broncos had opportunities waiting for rookies Justin Hollins and Malik Reed as well as free agent Jeremiah Attaochu, who came in off the street free agent heap.
Attaochu was one a highly regarded second-round pick of the then-San Diego Chargers, who selected him 50th overall in 2014 out of Georgia Tech.
Attaochu was not only a high draft choice, he also got off to a very good start in his NFL career with 52 tackles, six sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 17 quarterback hits in just his second NFL season.
As is typically the case, injuries have prevented Attaochu from becoming the player he's always been capable of being, and he's only got four total sacks since 2016 as a result.
Since Attaochu was signed by the Broncos eight weeks ago, he's got only one start (this past weekend against his former team, the Chargers) but has made a positive impression in his limited reps, although he's played 80 total snaps the last two games.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is a tough guy to get a lot of public praise from, so when he speaks positively about a player as he did on Thursday about Attaochu, it's worth looking into.
“He’s gotten better. I personally wasn’t that fired up or impressed early, but he’s won me over. He’s just gotten better and better and better each and every week. He’s playing his butt off. I think he likes being here and I think he likes that he’s playing, and he’s won me over.”
HC Vic Fangio on Jeremiah Attaochu (quotes via Broncos PR)
Injuries don't always open the door to potential long-term or even intermediate-term (Is that a thing? It is now.) options but it appears as though the Broncos have found a keeper in Attaochu. After hearing Fangio speak highly of him like this, I had to go back and watch some of the tape to see what stood out among his 40 snaps against the Chargers without Von Miller in the lineup, and there was one particular series where he was dominant.
It was the Chargers' second series of the game, the one that ended with a Dre'Mont Jones interception. The first two plays, Attaochu crashes down and makes tackles for merely short gains. On the interception play, Attaochu absolutely destroys Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi with a pass rush, and would have gotten a sack on Philip Rivers if the play was anything but a screen pass.
Attaochu's contract with the Broncos only goes through this season, but with the way he has played lately and his age (not yet 27), it's fair to wonder if the Broncos should entertain giving him a new contract as a possible backup edge player moving forward.
He's certainly played well enough to earn it.