The Miami Dolphins used the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. A four-year starter at Clemson, Wilkins joins the Dolphins who need pass-rush and run-support assistance all along the defensive line this year and should immediately plug into the starting lineup in South Florida. What are the Dolphins getting in Wilkins?
During his four seasons at Clemson, Wilkins played in 55 games, recording 192 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, 15 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He also saw a few snaps on offense at Clemson, carrying the ball four times for 13 yards with two touchdowns and catching two passes for 32 yards with a touchdown.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein profiled Wilkins pre-Draft, writing of him, “Desired combination of athleticism, production and character with the ability to fit into a stop unit that already has some pieces in place. Wilkins is a slippery, upfield three-technique with the ability to make plays outside his area. He plays with low pads allowing for optimal disruption leverage in the gaps, but he needs to be paired with an attacking front as he lacks the length and strength to hold his ground as a read-and-react tackle. He’s busy and agile as a rusher, which could keep him on the field for more snaps.”
To get a better idea of exactly what Miami is getting in this “slipper, up-field three-technique,” I turned to the SB Nation Clemson site, Shakin the South Land, getting a chance to talk to ColbyL about Miami’s rookie. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Wilkins - including starting off the discussion with some fun instead of being strictly serious.
The Dolphins added a big-bodied running back in the first round, someone who found the endzone on literally half his collegiate carries and half his receptions. Can Wilkins continue to have that kind of offensive success in the NFL?
Absolutely. His solid catching out of the backfield coupled with his athleticism makes him a dynamic threat who can hurt you in a lot of different ways.
I guess Wilkins also played on defense. His draft profiles seem to favor him as a three-technique, working the gap between the guard and tackle. Wilkins was not limited to that kind of role in college, playing just about everywhere for Clemson. Can the Dolphins use that versatility at the NFL level, or should we expect to see him playing his best in a 4-3 style, 3-gap role?
He definitely fits the mold best as a 4-3, 3-gap DT in standard packages. But he’s also athletic enough to play on the edge, especially in special sub packages that only use two-down linemen. By the same token, he can also play outside edge rusher in a standard 4-3 should injury concerns arise. He played outside defensive end for a large portion of 2017 when Clemson had depth concerns due to injury. While good against the run, Wilkins is at his best when he’s rushing the passer from his interior DT spot. He’s also rangy and athletic enough to play in space and has the flexibility (see post-2016 national championship game) and bend you want from a lineman.
Because it seems like everyone has to mention it, Wilkins is incredible off the field as well. Between working as a substitute teacher to earning his undergraduate degree in 2-1/2 years and finishing his Master’s degree a year later, between volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to participating in fundraising to fight cancer, Wilkins is a high-character man coming to play football in South Florida. What can you tell us about his time in Clemson and what he has meant to the team, the school, and the community?
Outside of probably Deshaun Watson, Wilkins is arguably the biggest culture-changing player to arrive on Clemson’s campus. Dabo Swinney joked he could either be Michael Strahan (a dominant, decorated NFL career followed by becoming a famous media personality) or president of the United States. His fun personality on and off the field touched so much of the Clemson community. He was a part of the vaunted “Power Rangers” defensive line, and he injected this sense of pride and culture into the program that Dabo Swinney has cultivated. To the school, he displayed the model professionalism you want your players to have. Whether it was to fans, media, coaches, or teammates, Wilkins always said the right things and led by example. His personality is very much like a Michael Strahan in terms of his overall presence, from his charming smile to the way he performed on the field. He has the potential to be a face of the franchise any NFL team covets.
I know some Dolphins fans know the story behind why Wilkins wore number 42 in college, but many may not. Can you break that down for us?
Wilkins wears 42 in dedication to his late grandfather Eurie Stamps, Sr., who was born in 1942. He was killed in 2011 when a SWAT team member’s rifle discharged and shot him. SWAT had invaded his apartment looking for his stepson, who had been suspected of selling drugs from the apartment alongside two of his other associates. Stamps had no criminal history and became an unfortunate victim as a result. He was a big part of Wilkins’ life, who was often told he was just like him. Since then, Wilkins states that he does his best to embody his grandfather in what he does as a player on and off the field. There have been some great features about it within the past couple of years.
As great as Wilkins seems to be, he is not perfect. Where are his weaknesses?
If there is something, it’s that he’s not going to beat you with straight a bull rush, as he doesn’t possess that kind of elite level strength. Unlike his counterpart Dexter Lawrence, who relies largely on his strength, size, and power, Wilkins relies much more on his fluid athleticism and quickness. He wasn’t one to continually split double teams in college largely due to needing to improve his overall play strength. While not considered undersized like Aaron Donald, Wilkins isn’t exactly lauded for his exceptional length either, which could play a factor going against linemen with long arms who can’t be beaten by just speed and athleticism. There were also times when he struggled against more zone blocking schemes, particularly when he would sometimes get too deep on runs and overrun plays that left lanes open behind him. His hand usage still needs work as well, though it’s an area he has flashed in at times. This will be a big area to watch for him since he doesn’t possess exceptional length. Smart player, but mental recognition and hand usage need to continue becoming more consistent.
Assuming Wilkins is starting in Week 1, what do you think is the outlook for Wilkins as a rookie? For his career?
As a rookie, I think a 40-50 tackle, 4-5 sack season is within reach, as is being named to the NFL all-rookie team. He can easily post a 10-year career as a quality interior lineman able to play in any scheme, though long-term his best fit should be as a 3-technique to get the most out of his skillset.