Christian Wilkins is a player that could have left early in 2018 and might have been a first-round pick. Instead, he decided to stick around for another year, and the results may encourage other high-quality talents to stay rather than rush to the NFL. Not only did his Clemson Tigers roll through the NCAA on their way to a perfect season and their second national championship in the past three years, but Wilkins put together the most outstanding season of his career and solidified himself as a top-20 selection.
There is plenty to love about Wilkins’ game, starting with his versatility. Dan Quinn will have a field day putting the Clemson star all over the defensive line. There isn’t a scheme that Wilkins won’t fit into, but he’s perfect in a 4-3, where he can line up over the nose tackle, in a three-technique, or outside on the edge. He played all of those positions for Clemson and played them very well. Wilkins is best-suited to play the three-technique, where Grady Jarrett usually lines up, but his versatility gives Quinn the option to switch things up depending on the situation. That is something that cannot be overlooked at the next level.
On the tape, Wilkins does a multitude of things that make you want to say “that will play” in the NFL. His jump off the ball is uncanny. There are several times where it looks like Wilkins is the only one aware the play has already started. Everyone else is still sitting in their stance (on both teams), and Wilkins already has his hands on an offensive lineman. When that happens, even in the NFL, offensive lineman won’t be able to recover.
Wilkins is a powerful human being at 6’4″, 315 pounds and didn’t run into any opponents that could match his strength during his final season at Clemson. He has those heavy hands that can stop blockers in their tracks, which allows him to make a ton of plays at or beyond the line of scrimmage.
As a pass rusher, Wilkins will be competent in the NFL. His burst and power are his most prominent attributes, but his moves and countermoves are more than adequate. When he played defensive end at Clemson, he had decent bend and flexibility for the position, but in his natural three-technique, it’s a much more noticeable advantage. Wilkins can be a player who reliably plugs holes in the running game and racks up 5+ sacks a season.
Weaknesses? Those are hard to find with Wilkins, which is rare for any draft prospect. As a four-year player at Clemson, he is ready to start on day one for whoever winds up selecting him. The biggest knock on Wilkins is probably his upside. He doesn’t have outstanding measurables, nor is he overly explosive or athletic. Ed Oliver is going to appear a lot better without the pads on, and he did at the NFL combine, but Christian Wilkins is a straight gamer.
The two-time National Champion would be an outstanding pick at #14 if available. He’d be the perfect fit – someone who knows the scheme and can step in right away for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations next season. The Falcons could take a number of different paths on April 25th, the day of the first round of the draft. Cornerbacks, offensive tackles, maybe even a linebacker, but it would be asinine to overlook the defensive line in another draft. It’s their most blatant need and has been for years now, but that hasn’t stopped the front office from ignoring it before.