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The Most Valuable Bronco is Von Miller

How can Von Miller improve under Vic Fangio?

NFL: Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers
How Von fares under Fangio will go a long way towards determining where the 2019 Broncos wind up.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are at the conclusion of the inaugural Most Valuable Broncos series. Remember that this is as much art as science, but to be as transparent as possible, I wanted to lay out how I made my list. There are 3 main aspects I considered:

1. Value to this year’s team and past performance.

2. Positional value

3. Salary compared to both past & expected future performance.

All three factors are important, but obviously this isn’t an exact science, so I look forward to seeing how Broncos Country disagrees with me.

Check out players 45-35 here.

Check out players 25-34 here.

Check out players 16-24 here.

Check out players 7-15 here.

Check out #6 here.

Check out #5 here.

Check out #4 here.

Check out #3 here.

Check out #2 here.

I suspect the conclusion to the MVB isn’t a big surprise, and it shouldn’t be. John Elway’s first selection as general manager has become every bit as good as you could feasibly hope. He’s arguably the best player from the 2011 draft, a near lock for Canton upon his retirement and still going strong at 30-years old.

Even the most casual followers of Broncos’ football can tell you how special Von is, so I won’t spend too much time browbeating you with it. He’s among the most dangerous pass rushers in football with a freaky fast first step and exceptional athleticism. As he’s aged he’s continually added moves to his repertoire and will completely embarrass most pass blockers one on one.

If the Broncos are going to topple Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Von will need more of these types of plays against Mitchell Schwartz (71).

How can Von improve in 2019?

It’s a question that’s lingered in the back of my mind since Vic Fangio said: “I do really believe as good as Von has played, he can play even better,” at his introductory press conference. Miller embraced the comments and looked forward to working with a coaching staff that wanted to help him reach another level.

Miller’s weight generated headlines later in the spring when he mentioned the plan to weigh in at 10 lbs heavier than his 2018 playing weight. Since at least Super Bowl 50, he’d been playing around 235 lbs, but mentioned it was time to bulk back up.

“I feel like for me, the difference between 235 and 245 is not really get-off, it’s not really speed, it’s not really getting hurt or getting injured, it’s not really agility or anything like that, or my moves,” he said. “It’s when you get locked up with an offensive lineman and where you’re able to go with that.”

Where Miller would like to go is right through that lineman on the way to the QB.

“[With] 235, you can go a certain direction with that when you’re locked in with an offensive lineman,” he said. “[At] 245, you can go just a little bit further with that. [At] 245 is where I want to be at. It’s still not much. It’s only 10 pounds. It’s not a lot, but I need that 10 pounds.”

Two areas come to mind where that the additional weight should certainly help him. The most obvious benefit is to compliment the current strength of Von’s game: his pass rush. So long as the weight doesn’t sap his burst off the line. it should open up additional opportunities to bully an opponent with more force behind his bull rush. There are times last year where Miller worked to spin by an opponent when it would have clearly benefited him to run straight through him. In a similar manner, extra oomph could be a big help on stunts. Take this 3rd and 9 play against the Browns, for instance:

Additional weight should only help Von attack interior offensive lineman.

Von loops inside to disrupt Mayfield here and gets good push on JC Tretter, in no small part because he catches him unprepared. With a little extra force behind his rush, he’s likely to shove the Browns center back into the quarterback.

There’s another big area he can improve upon going forward: his his play in space. Fangio dropped Mack and Floyd into coverage on a little over 10% of their snaps last season. For comparison’s sake, Chubb and Miller dropped a little over 5% in 2018, and most of it was the rookie. Pro Football Focus credited Von with just 26 coverage snaps last year. Which makes plays like this one against Baltimore stand out a lot more:

Von rarely dropped into coverage last year, but he’ll have to do a better job than this if called upon in 2019.

In his defense, it’s hard to completely blame Von for the initial opening Javorious Allen had on the play. Mark Andrews vertical stem works as a sort of pick to keep Miller from running step for step with the running back. Where Von errs is his hesitation as he watches Flacco which hurts his pursuit angle to Allen after the catch.

Look for Miller to have a lot more on his plate against the pass under Fangio. Both Mack and Floyd played more than double Von’s coverage snaps last year. So don’t be surprised to see both the Broncos’ edge players asked to drop into the flats, hook zones, or run with receivers on occasion. Additionally, there were scenarios in 2018 where the Bears’ duo were tasked with bumping a receiver before rushing the passer in order to disrupt the route runner’s timing.

Mack’s initially steps into Jimmy Graham to slow his burst off the line.

How will Fangio’s D help Von and Chubb?

One big difference you’ll see with the defense as a whole in 2019 is the coverage shells. Jeff Essary is going over it at length, but it’s important to mention a couple of differences here as they’ll directly impact the pass rushers. The first thing that comes to mind is the additional variety Fangio will throw at opposing offenses. Take this 2018 play in the opener:

Team’s could count on the Broncos manning up in critical moments under Vance Joseph.
The Broncos made heavy use of Cover 1 in 2018.

Broncos ran man coverage on 54.1% of all snaps last year, according to Sports Info Solutions. Only the Patriots ran it more. They also ran almost the entire defense out of a single high safety look, dropping one of the safeties into the box. The Bears meanwhile, played a mix of single and double high.

This makes sense as Fangio used man coverage 44.7% of the time, but also ran a heavy dose of match-up zone. If you’re looking to read into it at length I strongly advise following this jump, but my oversimplified summary is that it’s zone coverage that looks a lot like man. It’s where pass defenses are moving to adapt to the spread and air raid influence permeating through the NFL. It’s more adaptive than traditional spot dropping: there will be real answers to pick plays that have long plagued the Broncos. It should also help against teams that run a lot of jet motion such as the Rams, and Chiefs.

Sturdier coverage should help the pass rush immensely, as they’ll have more time to get to the quarterback. As I’ve mentioned last week, sack numbers are hard to predict because of so many mitigating factors. I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least if Chubb and Von’s sack numbers are down from 2018 if it means there’s more interceptions and punts. It goes beyond traditional stats, but disruption IS production. Fangio’s scheme should help the entire front 7 to see far more opportunities to sow chaos.

Miller (26) is behind only Terrell Suggs (33) on the active forced fumble list. He came into the league 8 years after the Cardinal.