Malik Jackson signed a mega deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason after having a breakout year with the Denver Broncos. While the Broncos still have a great defense, losing Jackson left a pretty big hole along their defensive line.
So who replaces Malik Jackson? This was the question asked to Head Coach Gary Kubiak on Tuesday, and he mentioned a few players currently on the roster who will need to step up.
"We have to see. Kenny Anunike is coming off injury. He’s been beat up for a couple of years and he’s got to get healthy. There are some things we can do with Sly Williams and Darius Kilgo. Bill Kollar can be creative in there in how we play those guys. Obviously, we’ve got four guys on our roster right now that have played a lot of football for us."
Kenny Anunike has been a fan favorite over the past few seasons, but like Kubiak has said, he has been banged up. Despite his great play during Training Camp and the Preseason, Anunike has yet to make to the regular season healthy. He has dealt with injuries dating back to his college days at Duke, so it is difficult to see that changing now. If the Broncos can get anything out of Anunike moving forward it will be a plus.
Veteran Vance Walker was signed last year and he was a rotational player for the Broncos this season. He stepped in and replaced Derek Wolfe for the first four games of the season admirably, but he is not a guy who can step in and do what Malik did. I think Walker will return to his rotational role and continue to be a solid run defender for the Broncos.
That leaves the two nose tackles mentioned by Kubiak. Sylvester Williams has flashed some pass rushing skills during his time with the Broncos, but not often. He really stepped up his play this past year and held down the nose tackle position for the Broncos. Some think he can play some 5-Technique, but I would just keep him in the middle.
The same goes for Darius Kilgo. He has one-gap nose tackle written all over him. I thought he played rather well early on in the year, but then spent the rest of the season on the inactive list. I think he could play outside, but he is not a pass rusher.
While defensive line coach Bill Kollar can get creative with these guys, they do not currently have a player on the roster who can step in and come close to doing what Malik Jackson did(not counting Derek Wolfe).
Kubiak: Replacing Jackson at DE will be collaborative ... says that "we can get better in the draft, & that's what we plan on doing."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) March 22, 2016
This is where Gary Kubiak told reporters that the Broncos plan on improving this position through the draft.
"We’ve got to get better there in the draft and that’s something we plan on doing."
Luckily for the Broncos, this year's interior defensive line class is very deep, and they could potentially find a starter or two in the first two or three rounds of the draft.
Prospects like Alabama's Jarran Reed, Ole Miss's Robert Nkemdiche, Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler, UCLA's Kenny Clark, Penn State's Austin Johnson, Ohio State's Aldophous Washington, Mississippi State's Chris Jones, South Carolina State's Vernon Hargraves, Notre Dame's Sheldon Day, Florida's Johnathan Bullard, and Illinois's Jihad Ward are all options for the Broncos in the first three rounds.
It's likely that one or two of the names mentioned above will be joining the Denver Broncos in a month. I know the cliche "smokescreen" angle will be brought up, but I do not see it here. The Broncos have a need and this draft is deep at that need.
Unless John Elway goes all in on a quarterback in the first round, I see the Denver Broncos continuing their trend of taking defensive players in the first round of the NFL Draft. This year they will be adding a player to their defensive line.