Malik Jackson wasn't a hot commodity in the 2012 NFL draft, and he didn't do anything for the Denver Broncos in 2012. However, it's been a different story in 2013.
Jackson has 3.5 sacks for the Broncos, with three coming in the last two games. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6, Jackson accumulated two sacks and a tackle for loss on three consecutive plays, sparking a defense in desperate need of help.
The fifth-round pick out of Tennessee also picked up a sack in Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys, halting a second-quarter drive and playing a role in Denver's win. He has consistently pressured quarterbacks often this year, and he is finally getting results.
And when he gets results, the team gets results.
A team that was in desperate need of a pass rush was sparked by an unexpected source. Jackson was expected to pick up some tackles and maybe a sack or two as a backup defensive lineman, but he has surpassed all expectations and has worked his way into the rotation as a key contributor.
And even though Von Miller is coming back to boost the pass rush, Jackson will be pivotal.
It is integral that Jackson, who's getting a lion's share of playing time on passing downs, continues his torrid play. He piled up a stellar seven tackles on Sunday, with three of those being tackles for loss. According to The Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman, Jackson earned a plus-4.5 grade from Pro Football Focus for his Sunday performance.
The Broncos surrendered just 13 points on defense Sunday (six came off of a pick-six from the offense), clearly benefiting from Jackson's play. Jackson helped the Broncos win Sunday, which he will continue to do.
A good pass rush is critical to winning, and even with the return of Miller, Denver needs a pass-rusher. It's unlikely that Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers continue at their torrid pace (the two have combined for 10 sacks so far), and it would help to keep attention away from Miller. Jackson has a legitimate chance of doing that.
If he can keep this up, he could help replace departed rusher Elvis Dumervil's production. Dumervil and Jackson play different positions (Dumervil isn't big enough to play defensive tackle), but in terms of stats, they aren't extremely different.
Dumervil, like Jackson, has three sacks in his last two games, and he has five on the year. Jackson has nearly as many sacks and tackles as Dumervil, and he has more stuffs. If he can keep playing well, he could take Dumervil's place as Miller's running mate. That would allow Ayers and Phillips to get easy matchups, which they can certainly take advantage of.
In other words, he and Miller could strike fear into the hearts of offenses. And the pass-rushing prowess would ignite the rest of the defense.
It might be a bit of a stretch to say that Jackson, a second-year unknown, can completely replace a seasoned, superb veteran in Dumervil. It's also a stretch to say that he will be able to keep this scorching-hot play up. However, even if he doesn't completely replace Dumervil's production, he would still make his presence felt.
And he would still drastically impact the pass rush.
Most teams don't have the luxury of consistent interior pressure, and Denver is lucky enough to have that. Jackson has been chasing down quarterbacks all year, and he is finally getting results. His consistent play on passing downs has helped the Broncos stay 6-0, and he could help Denver keep winning.
Offenses are starting to pay attention to the unknown prodigy, but they won't be able to devote much to him with a better, more attention-grabbing rusher in Miller on the field. In other words, Jackson will be able to chase down quarterbacks without taking on great blockers.
With just one man on Jackson (likely a big, bulky guard), he will be able to wreak havoc on quarterbacks. He has the athleticism to get by blockers with finesse, and he has the strength to execute a bull rush.
His combination of athleticism and strength allows him to work by all kinds of linemen, which gives the Broncos a great chance to apply interior pressure. And when Jackson doesn't have to take on great linemen, it gives him an even greater chance of harassing the quarterback.
Dumervil greatly benefited from taking on mediocre blockers, and Jackson will as well. Ayers, Wolfe and Phillips also will, which will strengthen Denver's pass rush as a whole.
Jackson is coming into his own, and he is solidifying himself in Denver's future plans. He is exceeding expectations and is catching the attention of offenses, which he will continue to do if he keeps accumulating sacks.
His impact on Denver's pass rush has been seismic, as he changed the Jacksonville game and halted a pivotal series against Dallas. He will only be better this year, using Miller's presence to his advantage and continuing to chase down signal-callers.
Don't be surprised if Jackson finishes the season with double-digit sacks or a sack total near that. He is developing into a good player, and his development is progressing rapidly.
And that's great news for the Broncos, who have the rare luxury of being able to rely on interior pressure.
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