Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) passes the ball against Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) in the second half during the 2013 AFC championship playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Who Should Start? Derek Wolfe Or Malik Jackson?

First world problems, right? With such a deep and talented roster, the Denver Broncos will face a lot of tough decisions in training camp. One of them will be: who to start at closed side defensive end? Derek Wolfe or Malik Jackson?

The Broncos drafted Wolfe in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, after they had traded back and out of the 1st round altogether. He was their first pick in the draft. He was immediately plugged in as the starter on the closed side.

Jackson was a member of the same draft class, but he was drafted in the 5th round out of Tennessee. They both share a similar skill set. High motor. Tweeners. They can play outside on the edge, or they can even swing inside and play inside at tackle if needed, especially in the Broncos’ nickel and dime sub-packages. They both have a decent repertoire of pass rushing moves and they’re both very good against the run.

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) reacts after a play in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As a rookie, Wolfe had a very solid outing. He saw the 2nd highest amount of snaps on defense, 2nd only to Elvis Dumervil, with 933. That’s insane for a rookie. It not only shows how much the Broncos’ coaching staff believes in him, but also that he was very good at executing his assignments. They trust him to do so.  As a rookie, Wolfe earned a -9.8 overall grade from PFF, while he notched 6 sacks, 7 QB hits, 12 QB hurries and 28 individual defensive stops. For those who don’t know, here’s how PFF classifies a defensive stop:

“The number of solo defensive tackles made, which constitute an offensive failure (including sacks).”

Jackson mainly saw playing time spelling Wolfe and occasionally as a situational interior pass rusher his rookie year. He only saw 120 snaps on defense. Going into 2013, both players had earned high praise from their coaches.

Wolfe was still entrenched as the starter. And then he injured his neck in the pre-season and that triggered a bizarre series of events that eventually forced Wolfe off the field.

Enter Malik Jackson.

In 2013, Jackson turned the proverbial corner and he did it fast. In 601 snaps, he earned a +17.8 overall grade from PFF, as he notched 6 sacks, 8 QB hits, a whopping 29 QB hurries and a total of 26 defensive stops.

So, in essentially 2/3 of the amount of snaps that Wolfe received as a rookie, Jackson out produced him in 2013. And now the Broncos have some tough decisions to make.

Derek Wolfe is reportedly 100% recovered from his neck and neurological issues. There’s no question that both players are going to see the field a lot. Derek Wolfe is a jack-of-all-trades who often does the down and dirty work which often sets up other guys like Von Miller and Danny Trevathan to make big plays. His work doesn’t always translate to the stat sheet.

The biggest difference between the two players is that Jackson is a better athlete and much more explosive. I’d be totally cool with either guy starting. But as unfair as it might seem, the Broncos are probably better off starting Wolfe and using Jackson in spot duty where he can stay fresh and impact the game in a big way.

You tell me, Broncos Country. Would you rather see Wolfe, or Jackson starting at LDE?

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Tags: Denver Broncos Derek Wolfe Malik Jackson NFL

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