FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – If Von Miller had been making the call at the top of the 2018 draft, there’s no doubt which player the Broncos’ All-Pro pass rusher would have chosen: Sam Darnold.
“I thought he was the best offensive player in the draft,” Miller said Wednesday from the Broncos’ training facility. “He’s a great quarterback. They haven’t been coming up with the wins, but he’s playing really well.”
No disrespect intended toward Baker Mayfield, who went to the Browns with the No. 1 overall pick, but the man who’s paid to chase quarterbacks and does it better than just about anyone else on Earth believes Darnold is the better player. Luckily for the Jets, he was still available with the third pick after the Giants took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley second.
“I thought he was going to be the No. 1 pick,” Miller said of Darnold. “In my opinion, from a pass rusher’s point of view, I felt like he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He wasn’t, but he’s definitely playing like it.”
Actually, Darnold is playing like a rookie who is still finding his way. At 1-3 after three straight losses, he has a completion percentage of only 57.5, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions. Sunday’s 31-12 loss to the Jaguars was the only game in which Darnold didn’t throw a pick.
What Miller likes about Darnold – actually, what he dislikes from a personal perspective because it makes his job harder – is his ability to make plays while scrambling.
“As a pass rusher, you want a guy that’s going to fall when you get to him, kind of like Peyton [Manning] was,” Miller said, taking a playful jab at his former teammate, a pure pocket passer who had little mobility during his brilliant career. “When you get close to him, get ready to touch him, he just falls. Sam’s not like that. He’s going to create space and try to get the ball down the field. He’s a playmaker and he’s out there to make plays.”
Miller comes off Monday night’s emotionally draining 27-23 loss to the Chiefs, who rallied behind second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ brilliant second-half performance. On one play, as Miller was about to sack Mahomes, the quarterback put the ball in his left hand and shot-putted a pass to Tyreek Hill. Asked if he’d ever been involved in a play like that, Miller paused a moment and said, “No … that’s all I have to say about that. You’ve got to just let it go.”
Clearly, he is ready to move on.
“We came into that game last week, the energy was crazy,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching to my teammates, let’s keep the same energy, let’s re-load and let’s go out and do it again.”
Darnold may be the one to pay the price if the Broncos can rebound successfully from the loss. He already has been sacked 10 times for 63 yards, and Denver’s pass rush features Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, the former North Carolina State sack specialist.
Darnold appreciates Miller’s kind words.
“That’s high praise from a really talented player, probably one of the best players in the league,” Darnold said of Miller’s contention that he should have gone No. 1 overall. “It’s very humbling, very flattering, but at the same time, we’re going up against him.”
Miller is only the latest high-profile personality to compliment Darnold, but he is mindful of not getting carried away with the comments.
“It’s a good feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Darnold said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to worry about that. I’ve got a lot going on in my own life with football and running the plays and executing, being on the same page with everyone on the offense.”
Besides, Darnold knows he can’t take anything for granted against Miller. He only hopes he isn’t looking up at him from the turf at MetLife Stadium if Miller gets the best of him Sunday.