ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For those in the NFL who make the draft their every-day vocation, 2011 is one of those rare years, a template for how the whole process is supposed to work.
Fifteen players selected in the first round that year have been named to at least one Pro Bowl. The No. 10 pick (J.J. Watt) has won the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in back-to-back years, a third-rounder (DeMarco Murray) has been the league’s rushing champion and the 70th pick (Justin Houston) signed a $101 million deal last July.
Super Bowl 50 will feature two players -- Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton -- who were the first two players selected in that draft. Newton was selected No. 1 by Carolina, while Miller was John Elway’s first selection at No. 2.
“That’ll will always mean something to me, that John Elway picked me as his first pick," Miller said. “I thought at that time I could be No. 1, but (Carolina) didn’t see that way, they took Cam Newton and they won a lot of games."
Super Bowl 50 will mark the first Super Bowl when the players selected with the first two picks of the same draft will face each other.
Newton is the favorite to win the league’s MVP award after the Panthers finished the regular season 15-1 and he accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing). Miller was just named to his fourth Pro Bowl this season, has 60 career regular-season sacks and added 2.5 more in the Broncos’ win over the Patriots this past Sunday.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak was coaching for the Houston Texans at the time. The Texans had the No. 10 pick and took Watt.
“I obviously looked at them all," Kubiak said. “I knew Cam’s ability and what he stood for. I knew Von very well because he was right down the street from us (at Texas A&M). When you look back on it now and who’s lining up and playing here in a couple of weeks, that tells you it was a pretty darn good draft for both teams."
The fact Miller and Newton play positions that will put them on the field at the same time only adds to the affair. Miller has faced Newton once before, a 36-14 Broncos win at Carolina in 2012. Miller had one of the Broncos’ seven sacks in that game, as Newton finished 21-of-36 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Newton comfortably fits into an offense that asks him to throw from the pocket at times and run like a running back at other times.
“You can’t rush timid because if you do that, he’s one of those pocket quarterbacks that can get the ball deep down the field," Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “You have to be able to get pressure on him, but you have to be decisive on how you’re rushing. You can’t be a wild rusher with big, wide B-gaps or let him run in the A-gap and do what he wants to do because he’s actually a running back himself. He can get yards and make big plays so you have to make sure the pocket is tight when you’re rushing against him, but you still have to be aggressive."
Miller will be the Broncos’ biggest impending free agent at season’s end. Given his production he will certainly be in line for a deal like Houston’s, which included $52.5 million guaranteed. The Broncos do have a franchise player tag available to use on Miller for the 2016 season.
The Broncos used the tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas last offseason before the Broncos signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal.
“I’m not worried about any of that," Miller said. “That’s the business side of it, and the business side of it takes care of itself. Right now we just want to win a Super Bowl, that’s been our goal all year, right from Day 1, to win our division, get in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. We’ll just try to do what we’ve been doing all year."