It’s no secret that Denver’s defense experienced a bit of a drop off last year from their Super Bowl form. I attribute about 80 percent of the drop off to Malik Jackson not being on our defense anymore.
Most of us knew that losing Malik would affect the defense, but I’m not sure we fully appreciated his impact until it wasn’t there anymore.
Leading up to Super Bowl 50, the MMQB highlighted Jackson as an unsung hero of the defense:
In my casual chats with offensive coaches around the NFL this year, Jackson’s name has come up several times, often unprovoked. When teams game-plan for the Broncos, they talk about stopping defensive tackle No. 97 almost as much as they do Miller and Ware. “We really need Malik in order to have the type of defense we have right now,” Von Miller said at the Broncos’ media session on Wednesday.
Last year the run defense suffered the biggest hit from Jackson’s absence, in large part because his replacement, run stuffer Vance Walker, went down with an injury. However, with the addition of Zach Kerr at DE, and Domato Peko shoring up the NT spot, the Broncos hope to plug the holes in the sieve that was their run defense a season ago.
What was still missing was perhaps the most important aspect of Jackson’s game - his pass rushing.
It became evident as quickly as Week 1 that the interior pass rush would not be what it had been when Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson were rushing together. I wrote about the difference in pressure up the middle of the pocket for Cam Newton after that game, and it continued throughout the season, eventually forcing Wade Phillips to make a schematic shift to a Nascar package on 3rd and long and blitz more often to generate pressure.
While we’ll likely still see a heavy dose of that Nascar this year, having a defensive tackle that can rush the passer from inside gives the defense much more flexibility and additional run-stopping potential in sub packages as well.
So where does Denver find such a guy? The Broncos may have just drafted him.
Malik Jackson and DeMarcus Walker Comparison
|Measurable||Malik Jackson||DeMarcus Walker|
|Measurable||Malik Jackson||DeMarcus Walker|
|Weight||284 lbs||280 lbs|
|Arm Length||33 3/4"||33"|
|Hand Size||9"||10 1/2"|
|40 Yard Dash||4.91 sec||4.88 sec|
|Vertical Leap||28"||31 1/2"|
|3-Cone Drill||7.38 sec||7.91 sec|
|20-Yard Shuttle||4.41 sec||4.71 sec|
|Bench Press||25 reps||18 reps|
The similarities between Jackson and Walker don’t just end with measurables and workout numbers.
Jackson entered the league as a “tweener” who played out of position in college (Tennessee primarily had him 2-gapping as a full-time DT/NT), and didn’t naturally fit into a slot in the NFL. Too big and slow to play on the edge, yet not really strong enough to play inside consistently and stop the run, Jackson started his career with Denver as a rotational pass rushing DT in sub packages.
This fits with Walker as well. He too was out of position in college, being moved all around the defensive line, but primarily being asked to play on the edge, which did not suit his skillset. When he was asked to line up at 3-tech, or at 1/0-tech in pass rush situations, he excelled at beating interior linemen to the QB.
I could see Walker immediately filling Jackson’s initial role as a situational pass rusher, while following a similar path of growing into an every down force like Malik did over time (hopefully in less time).
John Elway alluded to this after drafting Walker in the second round:
You look at our defense and where our defense was two years ago, and VJ and I were talking about this, how effective we were when we had [Jaguars DE] Malik [Jackson] inside and rushing inside. DeMarcus has that ability and will have that ability. That's why we're so excited about him. We think Adam (Gotsis) is really going to take a big step this year and then DeMarcus is going to bring an already good repertoire as far as pass rushing moves and be able to rush the passer.”
Let’s take a look at those pass rush moves Elway was referring to.
This swim move is very reminiscent of Malik Jackson in 2015.
Watching them both on tape, they share similar qualities.
Both show good toughness and strength to battle through traffic while penetrating gaps in pass rush situations. Walker and Jackson also both possess a strong swim move that allows them to quickly shed blockers and get after the quarterback.
Having a player come into the league with pass rush moves already this well developed is a huge bonus and will help Walker see the field immediately.
Demarcus Walker has the best swim move in this draft period pic.twitter.com/x4z2yUELX8— Clifford Franklin (@Bov1ce) May 1, 2017
Since Jackson left in free agency a little over 15 months ago, Denver has signed three DEs and drafted two more in the second round of back-to-back drafts trying to find his replacement.
They just may have found him this time.
Do you believe DeMarcus Walker may be a good replacement for Malik Jackson?
This poll is closed
At least as a pass-rusher; hopeful as a run-stopper
Probably not this year, but he could develop into that role.
I’m like "Missouri" - "Show Me" first and then I’ll answer.