Bills Archetypes: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson


Over the last several weeks, NFL Draft prospects have been poked, prodded, and interviewed by evaluators across the country. Each player entering the NFL Draft has some sort of measurable data now on record, and if they don’t, then they will by the end of their Pro Day. Physical attributes such as weight or arm length carry more value to some positions than others. The same can be said of the timed drills, such as the 40-yard dash or the three-cone drill. While film rules all, these data allow evaluators to paint a picture of the athlete. With an athletic profile created, general managers and personnel can now interpret and project that player into their coaches’ offensive or defensive system.

General manager Brandon Beane and assistant general manager Joe Schoen have a ton of experience scouting college and pro players. Beane helped GM Dave Gettleman from 2013-2017 to construct the Panthers’ draft boards. Schoen helped evaluate players for the Dolphins in 2013, where he served as the director of college scouting, then in 2014-217 as the director of player personnel. So while neither front office executive was making the decisions, their roles were critical to their general managers’ overall philosophy when it came to college and pro players.

Cover 1’s Fernando Schmude and I rounded up all of the players that these two men have helped sign or draft and generated the athletic profiles that they tend to look for. This will possibly help us narrow down targets that the Bills may be looking at ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. Today, we are going to analyze and interpret the defensive tackle position. Based on the front office’s history, we found averages across all measurements. Since defensive tackle is an area of need, I used the average measurements of past Beane and Schoen picks in the following three drills to narrow down the targets. The first one was a 10-yard split of 1.8 seconds or better, the second a 20-yard short shuttle time of 4.6 seconds or better, and the third an arm length of 32.5 inches. Wilkins registered a 1.76-second 10-yard split, 4.55 20-yard short shuttle, and arm length of 32.5 inches.

With the data sorted, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins from Clemson was one of the high profile targets that stood out. He wears #42 in all of the following clips.

Wilkins’s résumé is one of the most decorated I have ever seen. He’s played in 59 career games, a school record, including three National Championships, in two of which the Tigers came out on top. But his academic achievements have been overshadowed by this on-field success. Wilkins graduated in two and a half years with a degree in communications. He Clemson’s first scholarship athlete to ever achieve that. Every year that he was on the Tigers’ campus he was an All-ACC Academic selection, and his commitment to his studies earned him the “Academic Heisman” in 2018, known as the William V. Campbell Trophy. This award “recognizes combined academic success, football performance, and community leadership,” and it encapsulates Wilkins as a football player and as a man. This is exactly why he is not only an archetype fit athletically, but also a cultural fit for the Bills.

His production on the field speaks for itself, and it’s even more impressive considering how often he was aligned as the nose tackle over the years. But he has the ability to really line up anywhere along the defensive line, which will make him an attractive piece to 3-4 and 4-3 teams alike. But what stood out the most on film was how often he ended his reps around the ball. Over the course of the last three years, Wilkins’s average depth of tackle was 1.8 yards. In 2018, it was down to .8!

He tracks the ball well and can absorb ‘feed’ blocks like the one here by RG Chris Lindstrom, and can leverage the ball down the line of scrimmage while engaged the entire time.


He’s a tough guy to reach on zone blocks because he recognizes the blocks and has the footspeed to string the play out. Here he beats the reach block by arguably the top guard in this draft, Boston College’s Lindstrom.

Wilkins’s technique and style of play aren’t pretty; he does the dirty work, and he does it at an elite level. On this play from the 2018 National Championship, he gets bounced back to the center, but he still manages to track the ball, maintain his gap integrity, and disengage to finish the play.

In Buffalo, he would be that versatile type of defender that can be used at nose or 3-technique, similar to how head coach Sean McDermott used Kawann Short in Carolina. When at nose, his bulk and power make him difficult for undersized centers to handle. He can hold his water and disengage when the running back commits to the entry point. He was so good against the run, he earned Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) 2nd highest run stop percentage at 12%.

General manager Brandon Beane and assistant general manager Joe Schoen have signed or drafted guys who average 75.5 inches in height, but they have acquired two guys at 74 inches. Wilkins is slightly below the average at  75.25 inches, but it doesn’t hinder his ability to track and disengage.

But he would likely be Kyle Williams’s replacement as the under tackle at three-technique. He has the short-area burst and recognition to chase down plays that are run away from him. Here he beats the backside cutoff block and makes a tackle on Josh Jacobs. Yes, he chased Jacobs down from behind.

His drive and determination really encapsulate him as a pass rusher. He won’t flash many pass rush combinations or counters; he gets to the quarterback out of sheer hard work, and that will cause the Bills’ staff to fall in love with him.

The very same will that allowed him to achieve success off the field carries over onto the field. Look at how he never quits on this play. He quickly stabs into the A-gap to his right then drives hard to the rim and works through a hold to register the sack on Jalen Hurts.

While his athletic testing didn’t seem all that impressive, he actually earned the 6th-highest SPARQ rating for a defensive tackle in this draft class and posted an 8.51 RAS. According to PFF, Wilkins registered the 2nd highest pass rush productivity rating (8.2) in 2018 among all interior defenders.

His athletic ability and size allow him to be disruptive on stunts and twists from various alignments. Here Wilkins is lined up at 4-tech over left tackle Jonah Williams. On the snap, he becomes the looper on the interior stunt by jumping three gaps over to the weak side and flashes in the QB’s peripheral, causing him to pull the ball down and scramble.

According to PFF, Wilkins racked up 20 sacks, 29 QB hits and 77 QB hurries in his collegiate career.  When he is in a shade technique or allowed to attack the pass protector on an angle, he knows how to use his hands to quickly win. Here he quickly beats the center and forces a fumble.

The four-year letterman in basketball in high school is a defender that is rarely affected by an offensive lineman’s punch. He can quickly counter and displace a lineman to give him the quickest line to the quarterback.

Overall, I do like Wilkins as a run game defender, but there were times where he was dug out of his gap far too easily.

His stoutness and power at the point of attack can go from wins to losses on gap runs when there is a deuce block at the point of attack or a combo block on inside zone occurs. He can leverage and chase on runs to the perimeter, but when teams want to run downhill at him, he will lose some of his anchor.

Well-orchestrated offensive lines, especially ones that have guards with length and power, could cause issues for Wilkins. He only has 32.5-inch arms which, based on Beane and Schoen’s archetype, is the lower threshold (Earl Mitchell). We saw Alabama right guard Alex Leatherwood do a great job of sealing Wilkins off on this play. Notice how ineffective Wilkins’s power is versus Leatherwood. He can’t overpower Leatherwood’s inside half to be his normal disruptive self.

In the very same half, Leatherwood again uses his length to displace Wilkins, and it leaves a massive gap inside for the running back.

As a pass rusher, Wilkins relies on his drive and power more than I would like. That style of play can go a long way in college, but at the next level offensive linemen will match or exceed his strength and technique. He needs to augment his pass rush repertoire if he wants to be an effective pass rusher on Sundays.

Overall, I believe Wilkins sits just inside first round. He has an insane amount of production for a collegiate defensive tackle and the versatility a lot of teams will love, including the Buffalo Bills. He’s a scheme-versatile defender that can play defensive end in a 3-4 defense and defensive tackle in a 4-3. I think he would make a great Kyle Williams replacement on and off the field. Wilkins can win the line of scrimmage with his bull in a china shop style of play and blue-collar mentality. He is even athletic and selfless enough to play on special teams. The two-time captain has contributed in that area since his freshman season, having been a stalwart on the field goal, field goal block, and punt return teams. Wilkins is the type of player that the city of Buffalo loves. If there is one guy that screams process in this draft, it’s Clemson’s Christian Wilkins.