Christian Wilkins 2017 Preview By Charlie Campbell
Career Recap: Under Dabo Swinney, Clemson has turned into one of the top college football programs on the field and for yielding NFL talent. A lot of the Tigers' offensive prospects have received a lot of hype, but the Tigers have produced a lot of good players on defense as well. Clemson had a banner 2016 season and won a National Championship, but lost a huge amount of its talent base to the NFL. The defense has more pieces returning, and Wilkins could be Clemson's best player in 2017.
Wilkins played well for Clemson in 2016 as part of a tough defensive line that controlled the point of attack. The sophomore totaled 48 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and 10 passes batted on the season. He had lined up at a variety of spots for the Tigers and showed real versatility up front. Naturally, Wilkins is a defensive tackle, but he played a lot of defensive end as a sophomore. As a freshman in 2015, Wilkins notched 33 tackles and two sacks.
Wilkins also showed his athleticism by playing some offense. He had a touchdown catch as a tight end in 2016 and a 31-yard reception as a freshman.
2017 Season Outlook: There are a lot of quality opponents on Clemson's 2017 schedule. In Week 2, Wilkins will see a good opponent in Auburn, which has a few NFL prospects on its offensive line. A week later, Wilkins will need to have a big performance to help limit Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson was brilliant last year despite a weak offensive line, so Wilkins could have his way with the Cardinals' front. In early November, Clemson hosts Florida State, and Wilkins will take on a quality offensive line with the Seminoles.
Skill-Set Summary: Clemson had to move Wilkins to defensive end last year because of some injuries, but was lucky enough to have had a good interior pass-rusher with Carlos Watkins, who notched double digit sacks on the season. With Watkins now playing for the Houston Texans, Wilkins could be the lead interior pass-rusher for the Tigers, and that would be the best fit for his skill set. He is at his best using his speed on the inside to fire gaps, because he is very quick on the inside to present mismatches with guards.
Wilkins is quick, athletic, agile, moves well in space, and has some good instincts. He is a high-energy defender with a good motor and gives a second effort to pursue plays.
As a pass-rusher, Wilkins is able to get after the quarterback with pressure coming around the corner. He has looked most dangerous when lining up over guards and firing past them to cause disruption in the backfield. While he played a lot of end in 2015, at his weight, Wilkins really doesn't have edge-rusher speed for the NFL. He will have to rush from the inside as a pro, and that is his natural position anyway.
Wilkins is a solid run defender with a strong, thick lower body to help him hold his ground at the point of attack. He will have to guard against playing too high and stay on top of his conditioning. As a run and pass defender, Wilkins could stand to improve his hand usage to get blockers off of him. He also could use more work on pass-rushing moves.
For the NFL, Wilkins has the versatility to play end or tackle. For a 4-3 defense, he has enough speed and athleticism to play on the edge on running downs and move inside in passing situations. In a 3-4 defense, he could fit as a five-technique defensive end who rushes from the inside in the sub package.
2018 NFL Draft Expectations: Entering the 2017 season, Wilkins has early round potential for the 2018 NFL Draft. A big season rushing the quarterback could vault him into Round 1.