If the Detroit Lions had one severe need coming into the 2017 NFL draft, it was their pass rush. Rather than address that issue directly, general manager Bob Quinn drafted Jarrad Davis to shore up their depleted linebacker corps and focused on depth to reload the roster after that. It was a risky gamble that ultimately didn’t pay off, with the pass rush continuing to be a weakness throughout the 2017 season.
It isn’t easy to take a bottom-ranked pass rushing unit and put it into the top ten, but the Lions struggled to even keep that bottom unit out of the basement. They can’t ignore the unit again in 2018, and one of the most popular choices for the team has been Clemson interior pass rusher Christian Wilkins.
Weight: 300 pounds
Current Projection: Top 15 to late first round
Normally this is the part of our write ups where we briefly go into the potential knocks on a player’s game. What could sully their draft stock in the eyes of evaluators, either by showing an unacceptable risk or by some flaw that is going to be over scrutinized during the draft? I don’t have anything to put here, so I’m just explaining what normally goes here.
Christian Wilkins has been one of the most consistently mocked players in the first round since the preseason. Of the more than 275 mock drafts we have tracked so far, Wilkins is only absent from 17 of them. SBNation’s Adam Stites wrote about many of the ways Clemson used Wilkins’ inherent athleticism, from blocking kicks, to catching passes, to even rushing the football, and it’s that athleticism that will really sell scouts if he blows up the combine. It’s really the only time during the draft process I feel he could be challenged, because if the expectations are so high for him as an athlete.
“Versatility and athleticism is fun, but NFL teams won’t go after Wilkins unless they believe he can destroy pockets, stuff running backs and sack quarterbacks. So far, he’s shown plenty of signs that he can.
Wilkins’ 6’4 frame has allowed him to knock down passes for Clemson, but he also has the ability to get underneath opposing offensive linemen and use his quick hands to rip through their attempts to block him.”
Medicals and Character
There’s very little to talk about with Christian Wilkins and injuries. He has had a couple of minor dings that he has mostly played through, but nothing serious that should cause any worry or make the Combine medicals noteworthy.
Christian Wilkins doesn’t have a sterling reputation in terms of character, but there’s a very important caveat here. We’re not talking about drugs, as that has apparently never been an issue. We’re not talking about arrests, because to the contrary, he’s been pretty clean. Wilkins is just a bit odd, and I’m sure he’s going to get more than his fair share of “Illegal Touching” questions at the combine.
That all said, Wilkins was fascinating to research, and he’s going to be one of the more vocal pieces of whatever NFL teams he lands on. His coach Dabo Swinney referred to Christian Wilkins as “Big-Time Special” as he’s had his share of struggles to overcome, but he has maintained a jovial and boisterous personality that has been nothing short of infectious. It seemed like nobody had a single bad thing to say about him, yet he always came off as someone grateful for his opportunities, humble about his obvious talents, and eager to improve at every step.
Coming in at prototypical defensive tackle size, Wilkins is going to be expected to nail his combine measurements by coming in above average in every area. After watching a good deal of tape, I have little doubt that he will do just that, potentially measuring out in that elite range. If there was one area I feel he may struggle, it’s going to be his arm length. But he’s not an offensive tackle, so I’m not going to pretend it hurts his draft stock significantly.
2015 - 33 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks 4.5 TFL, 1 FF
2016 - 48 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 13.0 TFL, 9 PD, 2 FR
2017 - 52 Tackles, 5.0 Sacks, 9.0 TFL, 4 PD
The Lions desperately need an explosive interior pass rusher, someone who can collapse a pocket and give quarterbacks less room to work with. Whether Teryl Austin remains as defensive coordinator or not, having a player like Christian Wilkins who can move all around the defensive line and wreak havoc in the backfield would go a long way to putting the Lions pass rush from bottom tier to respectable. Paired with A’Shawn Robinson’s ability to eat space and occupy blockers, Wilkins could be that piece that just puts it all together. Collapse a pocket, eat some space, set the edge, and get after the friggin’ quarterback.