The 2011 NFL draft featured Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, selected No. 1 by the Carolina Panthers after he led Auburn to a national championship.
The No. 2 pick did not generate the same attention. Linebacker Von Miller came out of Texas A&M, and the Denver Broncos chose him as the possible cornerstone of a rebuilding defense.
On Sunday, for the first time the No. 1 and 2 picks in an NFL draft will face each other in the Super Bowl.
“Super cool,” Miller said of the 1-2 matchup.
Newton continues to command the spotlight. His performance in leading the Panthers to a 15-1 regular-season record and two playoff victories is expected to earn him the league’s most-valuable-player award, which will be announced Saturday.
But Miller could crash the post-celebration party the next day at Levi’s Stadium.
In the AFC championship game, Miller led a Broncos onslaught that pounded Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Miller, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and other members of the Broncos defense hit Brady 20 times, nearly twice the number Brady absorbed in a game all season.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller had 2 1/2 sacks and intercepted a pass in a 20-18 victory that put the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
“We want to go out there and make sure the result is a little bit different this time,” he said.
Miller certainly is different. After recording 18 1/2 sacks in 2012, Miller was suspended for six games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He also failed to appear in court for speeding tickets.
“I’m a better teammate than I was a couple years ago,” he said.
With the injury and off-the-field issues behind him, Miller enters the game as perhaps the most important player on a defense ranked No. 1 against the pass, No. 3 against the run and No. 1 overall.
John Elway, who guided the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles as a quarterback, is happy the first pick he made as the team’s vice president of football operations has paid off.
“He was a young guy trying to grow up,” Elway said when asked about Miller’s off-field issues. “Obviously, he got off the tracks for a little bit, but he’s really come back and he’s done a tremendous job of getting his life back on track and in order.
“I think we’re seeing it with how he’s playing.”
Miller has benefited from the addition of Ware, an 11-year veteran and nine-time Pro Bowl player who signed with the Broncos before the 2014 season.
“DeMarcus is like a scientist out there,” Miller said. “He can watch five [video] clips of an offensive lineman and already have them broken down.
Ware, 33, has nine sacks this season. He was credited with a half sack against the Patriots, a game in which he and Miller ran around and through offensive linemen on their way to pounding Brady.
“Certain things don’t need to be said,” Ware said of his chemistry on the field with Miller. “We look at the other side of the line before the ball gets [snapped] and we know, ‘I’m going underneath and you’re around the corner.’”
The veteran’s leadership rubbed off on Miller.
“Sometimes the best thing you can do is lead by example,” Ware said, adding that the two linebackers have a “trusting and loyal relationship” like brothers.
“That’s what he needed,” Ware said. “That’s what I needed myself. I never had a brother before and he’s been that for me.”
Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coached Ware with the Dallas Cowboys. He said Ware remains quick, so much so that the coach warns officials not to mistake his timing off the snap for being offsides.
“Now you’ve got both of them like that,” he said of the Ware-Miller combination, “so it’s a pretty good thing to have.”
But not to face.
Ware and Miller often foil single- and double-team blocking, Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. Miller “can do whatever he wants” because he can start from anywhere and rush with power and speed from inside or outside.
“He’s relentless,” Shula continued. “Even when you feel like you’ve got him blocked, right at the end he can turn a corner and knock the ball out.”
Bill Cowher, who coached the late Derrick Thomas as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, noted “a lot of similarities” between Miller and the Hall of Fame linebacker, especially the speed of their first steps.
“So quick off the ball,” he said. “They make [offensive] tackles uneasy.”
Miller will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is expected to receive a payday comparable to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who last summer signed a six-year, $101-million contract that included a guaranteed $52.5 million, according to reports.
“I’m just trying to stay in the moment,” Miller said when asked about impending free agency.
At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Newton is a more mobile target than Brady. But Miller said he would go into the Super Bowl “with the same exact game plan” he has employed throughout the playoffs.
“Of course everyone knows about speed, him being fast, strong and tall and all that stuff,” he said of Newton. “His ability to make others play to a level that they would not normally play at is what I think is his greatest attribute.”
Miller’s goal, he said, was to win the game for veterans Ware and Manning.
“You always get a little bit extra energy and you are a little tougher when you are doing it for someone else,” he said.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein