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Christian Wilkins is gonna bust his ass for the Dolphins

Retired defensive end Stephen White breaks down the former Clemson pass rusher, a solid player who gives elite effort.

The Miami Dolphins took Christian Wilkins 13th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about the Clemson defensive lineman ahead of the draft:

Christian Wilkins is a quality interior defensive line prospect.

Clemson moved him around from a five-technique on the outside edge of the tackle on a couple of plays, to a 4i on the inside shade of the tackle, to a three-technique on the outside edge of the guard, to a 2i with an inside shade on a guard, to a one-technique on either edge of the center, to some zero nose. And he held up well in all of those alignments.

That versatility is one of his strongest selling points, and Wilkins has already shown that he can play well in pretty much any defensive scheme.

”Sturdy” is the word that came to mind while watching Wilkins playing the run. Although he wasn’t the biggest defensive tackle you will ever see at 6’3 and 315 pounds, Wilkins showed some really good functional strength on film. The guy was hard to move once he anchored down.

He did a really good job of holding his ground against double-teams for the most part, and occasionally he was able to fight through them to get to the running back, too.

Wilkins also handled scoop blocks well. He had to give a little bit of ground at times initially, but he did a good job of expanding when one of the blockers came off the block to go up to the second level. That allowed him to force the ball carrier wider than he wanted to go on several occasions in the four games of his that I watched.

In addition to being “sturdy,” Wilkins was also pretty quick on his feet. It was that quickness that allowed him to fire up the field and get penetration as a run defender on cutoff blocks. He had a real knack for avoiding getting cut off on the backside of a play.

That ability came in handy several times in short-yardage situations.

His quickness also showed up big time when Wilkins stunted laterally. He could make offensive linemen look positively silly if he caught them slipping when he was on the move. One minute he would be lined up in the A gap, the next he would’ve looped all the way around to the edge.

Don’t try double-teaming Wilkins.

I really enjoyed watching him play the run. Against the pass, I didn’t get to see Wilkins in a lot of one-on-one situations, but what I did see of his pass-rush ability was positive. That was particularly true when he lined up as a three-technique.

He showed me he can get off the ball in a hurry when he wants to, and he has pretty good rip and arm-over moves. Wilkins did a nice job running pass-rush games as well, particularly when he was the penetrator.

A lot of times, ironically enough, Wilkins actually did his best work as a pass rusher when there were two men assigned to block him. He would just keep working his hands and drive right through those double-teams.

This was something that showed up on film in more than one game.

Fighting against two blockers like that is something that Wilkins has obviously worked hard on, and it paid off for him in college.

I should point out that he had some decent power rushes, as well. One thing I found interesting was Wilkins showed an ability to rush the inside half of the offensive tackle and come free to the quarterback, especially when running pass-rush games. That isn’t something I have seen a lot of from college prospects, as it’s usually an old “vet” move in my experience.

Overall, Wilkins is just a good football player. Additionally, I can see that he has a high football IQ to go along with his better-than-average technique. He had a good feel for sniffing out screens and draws without getting fooled.

There is ZERO quit in his game.

His effort, something that is always a big deal for me, was also outstanding.

Time and time again, I saw him chasing after the quarterback on scrambles. I watched Wilkins turn to run to the ball immediately after it was thrown. I also saw him busting his ass from his nose tackle position all the way out by the sideline, trying to make a play on a running back.

He didn’t always make it there fast enough to get in on the tackle on those plays, but that’s not the point of hustling. You aren’t always going to get there, but you never know when your team is going to need you to make that tackle. You run because this just might be that play that makes a huge difference when it is all said and done.

Like when the quarterback scrambles on third-and-15 and you make the tackle to keep him a few yards short.

From what I saw, Wilkins was bound and determined to make sure he was in position to make the tackle whenever that play came by busting his ass and giving all-out effort. Not much more you can ask from any player.

Wilkins doesn’t quite measure up to other first-rounders, but that’s OK.

Now, having said all those complimentary things about him, I also have to say that I’m not sold on Wilkins being a first-round prospect. I think he is ready to play right away, and that he will play well for whichever team picks him, but I don’t know that he will ever be an elite player in the NFL.

And really, that’s fine! Not everybody can be an elite player. That’s kind of the point of the word in the first place.

That doesn’t mean Wilkins can’t carve out a nice career for himself and make a big impact for his new team, though. I believe wherever he goes, he is going to be productive and the fans will appreciate his effort if nothing else.

However, drafting someone in the first round is supposed to mean something. For me, it means you expect them to be more than just “good.” You expect them to be one of the best at their positions within about three years or so.

Wilkins is certainly a guy who can go out there and make all of the plays an average NFL starting defensive lineman “should” make. I am just unsure about whether he can make the kind of plays that only a handful of interior defensive linemen in the league can make. Being able to make those rare plays, to me, is what separates the great players from the good in the NFL. It is also what separates the guys I look at as first-day picks, and the guys I think you can wait until the second or third day to select.

I admit that evaluating Wilkins after I already evaluated Ed Oliver from Houston and Quinnen Williams from Alabama didn’t do him any favors. Williams, in particular, is around the same size and was deployed at Alabama is a very similar way as Wilkins was at Clemson. Williams’ play jumped off the screen at me a lot more than Wilkins’ did, however.

I did realize while watching his film and before getting started on this column that I might have been unfairly judging Wilkins by comparing him to Williams, so I went back and watched his tape once more to try to make sure I wasn’t. But who knows.

The thing is, Wilkins doesn’t have to be as good as Williams for me to like him. Williams is a fantastic prospect, but just like I didn’t feel like Williams had to reach Aaron Donald’s level for me to appreciate his potential, Wilkins didn’t have to measure up to Williams for me to see his, either. Oliver is a much different player than Williams or Donald, but it was evident to me that he is a first-round pick, too. I just didn’t get the same vibe from Wilkins as I did from Williams and Oliver on tape.

His new NFL team is still going to love him.

However, let me reiterate, there was a lot that I did like about Wilkins on tape. He made some really nice plays in those four games and he was a tempo-setter with his hustle. I just didn’t see enough of those “uncommon” plays that most college defensive tackles can’t make in the four games that I watched. It is entirely possible that he had a shit ton of them in the games that I didn’t watch, but I can’t assume something I didn’t actually see.

Wilkins will probably start as a rookie and play well in the NFL for close to a decade or more. Hopefully, no matter where he is drafted, his new team’s fans will appreciate him for who he is and not ridicule him for who he isn’t. I think he is going to be a valuable addition to whichever team that drafts him, and with that motor of his, he should become a franchise favorite in no time fast.

But we all know how it goes. A guy who would be praised for his exploits if he was a second- or third-round pick can end up getting labeled a “bust” if he is selected in the first round, unfortunately. All because of the ridiculously high expectations getting picked in the first round places on a prospect.

He’s a “safe” defensive line prospect who checks all the boxes physically and can line up at multiple spots where he will play well against the run. There’s a good chance he will be a better-than-average pass rusher, in my opinion. I like Christian Wilkins as a player, and, first-rounder or not, I do believe he is going to make a ton of plays over the course of his NFL career.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins play against Texas A&M, Boston College, Duke, and Alabama. Those represented the second, 10th, 11th, and 15th games on Clemson’s schedule last season, respectively.