This offseason, second-year Denver Broncos defensive back Ja'Quan McMillian was a player on the fringe of the roster, hoping to further his career any way he could. He spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad and that seemed the most likely route for him to stick with Denver this year.
But he made the 53-man roster after a strong summer and when Essang Bassey struggled in the slot earlier this season, the team chose to turn to McMillian as his replacement. It was part of the defensive adjustments that have turned this season around and now, though quietly, the Broncos could be sitting on a player who could become productive for many years to come.
One of the main reasons for the Broncos' turnaround and current 5-game winning streak has been an opportunistic defense that has created an incredible 15 takeaways in its last four games. The catalyst for that has been McMillian, who has four of those takeaways himself (2 interceptions, 2 fumbles).
Undrafted out of East Carolina last season, it's easy for McMillian to get lost in the shuffle, even on this defense that is becoming one of the more well-rounded units in the league despite being void of very many major stars. But if he continues to play at the level that he has been, he's going to have to start getting more recognition on a bigger scale.
When the Broncos gave up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, veteran pass-rushers Randy Gregory and Frank Clark along with Bassey were part of the starting rotation on defense. Following that game, the team started to make some defensive adjustments, giving Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper more snaps while also replacing Bassey with McMillian.
Right now, you could make the argument that McMillian was the best adjustment of all based on what he has done since. Despite being a young player in a secondary led by Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain, he is stepping up and making the kinds of plays you expect to see from seasoned veterans.
As this season goes, Simmons, Surtain and Josey Jewell are going to be the leaders of this defense, but keep your eyes out for No. 29. If a big play happens, there's a good chance he'll be involved.