Malik Jackson may be the defensive tackle that fans were looking for the Denver Broncos to take in the first round with big bodies such as Jerel Worthy, Kendall Reyes and several others available in the 2012 NFL draft.
The Broncos eventually traded down to add a second player in the third round and were biding their time until the fifth round when they snatched Malik Jackson with the 137th overall selection in the draft.
While the team will start with the veteran leaders on the defensive line at the beginning of the 2012 campaign with Ty Warren and Justin Bannan as starters, watch out for Jackson to come in, in reserve roles and on special teams during the season.
Jackson was brought onto the team first listed as a defensive end, but coaches saw Jackson’s real potential at defensive tackle, a position he grew into in college on the Tennessee Volunteers' defense in his junior and senior seasons.
For the time being, Jackson is backing up fellow rookie Derek Wolfe at left defensive end, but similar to Wolfe, don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio shifts him inside to defensive tackle in specialty packages.
His play this preseason with the Broncos has been characterized by making plays. After being shutout of the preseason-opener with the Chicago Bears, Jackson returned against the Seattle Seahawks with a sack and two hits on the quarterback.
In his play against the San Francisco 49ers, Jackson had another three tackles, two solo and one for a loss. In the preseason finale, Jackson was busy with four solo tackles, including one sack and a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Jackson has shown improved play every week throughout training camp and preseason. If the Broncos didn’t have so much experienced depth on the defensive line, he could believably be starting in the team’s season opener versus the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
Listening to Jackson talk about improving his play, learning from mistakes, he appears to be a high-quality player that will only get better. His ceiling looks very high and he is the type of player with great character to go with his superior football skills.
“I just tried to be consistent, tried to be responsible,” Jackson said. “I know I'm going to make mistakes, but you try to minimize them. Don’t make the same ones twice. I always want to show them I can play football. But they have to trust you to put you in there, and you get that trust by doing what you're supposed to in practice.”
Jackson is a solid tackler who can generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Inside, stopping the run will be something he must thrive at when he gets his chance. His versatility will continue to give him opportunities to see playing time, which is something he relishes.
“They said they were going to put me at end and I believed them,” Jackson said. “When you get your opportunities, you’ve just got to go with what they said... I'll do what's necessary wherever they put me. They throw a lot at you to see how you handle it. Are you going to study? Are you going to get frustrated? Are you going to find your way? I think I tried to do all that to find my way.”
Plugging running lanes and keeping contain on the outside are both high expectations for Jackson as a rookie. He looks to continue to exceed those expectations in 2012.