With starting cornerback Damarri Mathis (concussion) inactive for their season finale, the Denver Broncos turned to an unexpected option against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero chose to start undrafted rookie Ja’Quan McMillian, who had spent the first 16 games of the season on the practice squad. Evero believed McMillian looked good enough in practice to jump all the way from the practice squad to the starting lineup — and he was right.
McMillian played all 68 snaps on defense, totaling seven tackles and a near-interception that was questionably ruled incomplete.
“It felt great,” McMillian said of making his NFL debut. “I was on the practice squad the whole year. I just kept working and kept learning from the older guys. I paid attention in meetings. I never veered away from what we were doing in the meeting room and on the field. I just stayed the course and it felt great to come out here and show what I can do.”
First start, first win: 31-28.
Broncos veteran safety Kareem Jackson said it was “unbelievable” how well McMillian played in his first action as a pro. Denver inside linebacker Josey Jewell Jewell echoed that and proclaimed a bright future for the cornerback.
“It’s awesome,” Jewell said. “He played really well today and should have had that pick — they want to review that one more time. It’s awesome to see those guys who haven’t been playing a bunch go out there and then kill it the first time. I expect big things from them next [season].”
Speaking of that near-interception, McMillian believes he secured it, and Broncos fans agree.
“I most definitely had it,” the young cornerback said. “It looked like I clearly had my hands under the ball, but it was ruled differently, and it is what it is. I have all next year to do it. I thought for sure I had it. I even thought I had the touchdown for a second, but they overturned it. It is what it is.”
This should have been a pick-six for Ja’Quan McMillian in his first ever NFL game
The officials in the Titans/Jags game did the right thing not blowing the play dead when Dobbs fumbled late pic.twitter.com/WrIFfbP9Oe
— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) January 9, 2023
The interception did not count, but McMillian’s fans and teammates came away impressed with the cornerback’s performance. He will now have momentum going into the 2023 campaign, his second season.
“It means everything,” McMillian said of ending the year on such a positive note. “It boosted my confidence even more going into the offseason. I am trying to get better, keep progressing and keep learning from the older guys and the coaches. I am just grateful for the opportunity.”
Denver might have found yet another gem for the secondary.
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