As the NFL draft draws closer and closer here are some questions that are circulating that pertain to prospects and their draft stock as well as their potential and projected impacts at the next level.
Is the next Aaron Donald in this year’s draft?
The strength of this year’s draft class is predominantly on the defensive side of the ball and along front seven especially. The defensive line, in particular, is a position of great strength and depth from the top of the draft throughout the mid to late rounds.
No one is insinuating that there is another transcendent talent that will be able to replicate the historical tear that Donald has been on since the then St. Louis, now Los Angeles, Rams selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft out of the University of Pittsburgh.
It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be an extremely tall order to expect any of the rookies from this year’s draft to hit the ground running and terrorize quarterbacks and disrupt the offensive game plans the way the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year, five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and two-time Defensive Player of the Year has.
A more appropriate question to ask might be “Who from this loaded defensive line class will be the next great young defensive tackle?”. The key to that might lie within the versatility that a player can exhibit. Part of what makes Donald so great is the fact that he can line up anywhere along the defensive front and wreak a game.
Will it be Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver or one of the many pass rushers from the national champion Clemson Tigers?
Position versatility is quality that Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins has exhibited throughout his college career as he helped the Tigers appear in three and win two national championships in the last three years.
He is the most likely to follow in Donald’s footsteps and will be a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year in the fall. He can be put in any scheme and excel as he has the skill set to line up anywhere on the defensive front and dominate the man across from him.
During his time at Clemson, he lined up on the edge as a defensive end as well as along the interior of the defensive line as a defensive tackle, nose guard and even lined up in the backfield on numerous occasions to block or receive handoffs. He scored three touchdowns over the course of his career. At 6 ft. 4 in. and 315 pounds, Wilkins he possesses elite athleticism, is extremely active with his hands and using great technique.
Wilkins has 15 career sacks, seven of which he registered last season and 39.5 career tackles for a loss. The three-time All-American won’t have to wait too long to hear his name called on draft day and a good showing at the combine this weekend could be the first to go at his position after he puts that athleticism of display for his future prospective employers.