Plenty of folks wanted the Broncos to draft someone else with the 36th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. They might have wanted a flashier player. Some may have preferred someone with a more recognizable name, maybe a rookie from the Southeastern Conference.
But they took Derek Wolfe; and it would appear that they’re thrilled with their decision.
Rookie interior defensive linemen who make an impact are somewhat of a rarity. It’s one of those positions on a football team that seems to be anonymous at best, and a rotating carousel at worst (the Broncos past five seasons are one such example). Aside from the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh, interior linemen aren’t exactly “household names.”
Consistency, however, is the name of the game. And Wolfe has provided exactly that for the Broncos this season. At the midway point, the rookie had played more snaps – 501 – than any other Broncos defensive player. In fact, he’d been in on 85.8 percent of the Broncos’ defensive plays.
“I guess I play with a little bit of a chip,” admits Wolfe.
After all, it could be argued that Wolfe should have been drafted even higher. As the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, Wolfe shined in college at Cincinnati. And even at 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, he showed his athleticism at the NFL Combine, too; Wolfe turned in a blazing 5.01-second time in the 40-yard dash. Most experts would agree that the Broncos stole Wolfe with the 36th pick. Then again, in his mind, he slipped into the second round. Again, he’s got a reason to play with a chip.
But Wolfe is anything but flashy. At his very core, he’s blue collar through and through. He’s a workhorse, as evidenced by his consistency and reliability on the field this year – as a rookie.
That makes perfect sense, as Wolfe grew up in rural Negley, Ohio. He helped out on the family farm, an operation that took care of more than 100 Angus cows year round, and he starred on the football team at Beaver Local High School. He developed skills and smarts on the football field, and “man strength” off of it.
“Most guys don’t live on a farm and don’t have all the little things that have to get done,” Wolfe told the Denver Post’s Lindsay H. Jones moments after he’d been drafted by the Broncos. “It humbles you and helps you remember where you came from.
“It’s helped develop a toughness and a work ethic. Waking up early has never been a problem because you had to wake up early before school to get things done. I ruined a lot of good pairs of shoes by being in my school clothes already and then finding something else to get done, so I did it.”
Even with a nice NFL signing bonus in his pocket, Wolfe hasn’t changed his core values. He purchased his first truck in high school – a Ford Ranger – for $400. And when he got his first “pro” check, he stuck with a Ford truck. Sure, his new one, a Ford SVT Raptor with a 6.2L motor – “with a chip” – is a bit bigger and a bit nicer, but it’s still a truck.
“I’ve always been a truck guy,” says Wolfe with a grin.
And Wolfe still plays in the mud, too. Whether he’s doing chores on the farm where he spent his high school days, or duking it out in the trenches against some of the world’s most ferocious athletes, Wolfe has remained true to his roots.
As the Broncos look toward the postseason – perhaps even the Super Bowl – it will be their high powered offense, their Hall of Fame quarterback or even a sack machine like Von Miller who will be garnering most of the attention. But rest assured, the middle of the defensive line, anchored by Kevin Vickerson and Wolfe, will quietly being doing what they’ve done all year – collapsing the pocket and stuffing the run.
Wolfe, the blue-collared rookie, will arrive in his truck and then proceed to get down and dirty.