INDIANAPOLIS — Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has won a two-man race with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith for the 2011 Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, sparked a defensive turnaround in Denver with his steady and sometimes spectacular play. He teamed with quarterback Tim Tebow to energize the Broncos, who rallied from a 2-5 record to the AFC West title and a playoff win over Pittsburgh.
"It's special because you only get one rookie season," Miller said. "You don't get two tries at it. It's really a one-and-done thing. That was probably the most special thing about it, you only get one shot to accomplish this feat."
Miller received 39 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Smith, also a first-round choice, got the other 11. The awards were presented on an "NFL Honors" primetime special Saturday night on NBC.
"Aldon and me are good friends. If he got it, I wouldn't have been mad. That's still like my buddy," Miller said. "If anybody else would have gotten him, I probably would have been sick. But knowing him and knowing what kind of guy he is and spending time with him, I know what type of player he is and he deserved it, too."
The second Bronco to win the award – LB Mike Croel got it in 1991 – Miller made 64 tackles and had 11 1/2 sacks despite missing one game and playing the last four contests with a cumbersome cast protecting his surgically repaired right thumb.
"The thumb is a setback," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I mean, I can't deny that. It affects what you can do with that one hand. I don't have any doubts in my mind he would have shattered any types of records. With all due respect, I'm convinced he would have shattered any records if he'd have stayed 100 percent."
And as good as Miller was this year, he promised he'll be even better next year.
"I have no doubt that I'll be a totally different player next year," he said. "It will be night and day."