Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins make solid selection of Christian Wilkins. But will he be an impact player?

Adam Beasley grades the Dolphins on their first-round pick, Christian Wilkins

The pick is in, and so is Adam Beasley's grade. How well did the Dolphins do in draft Christian Wilkins?
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The pick is in, and so is Adam Beasley's grade. How well did the Dolphins do in draft Christian Wilkins?

Christian Wilkins has an electric personality.

“Charismatic,” Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier called him moments after picking the Clemson defensive lineman in the first round of the NFL draft.

We’ve seen it. Wilkins celebrated Clemson winning the national championship in January by performing an improbable split on national television during the trophy ceremony. And, you must remember, this man is 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds.

He celebrated being drafted by the Dolphins Thursday night by trying a leaping chest or shoulder bump with a shocked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell right there on stage.

The guy is all smiles and all energy and that’s all sorts of awesome.

And, yes, Wilkins might be a good anchor to the interior of the Miami defense for years to come. He can play defensive end in the 3-4. He can play nose tackle in the 3-4. He can play defensive tackle in a 4-3 look.

Miami Dolphins take Clemson's DT Christian Wilkins with 13th overall pick in 2019 NFL Draft, April 25, 2019.

“I was able to play all over the place,” Wilkins said.

“For a guy that big to do that many things on the defensive line is rare,” Grier said.

But the question Dolphins fans should be asking today is whether the Dolphins maximized this pick?

Because there was a quarterback who threw 50 touchdowns last year on the board when Miami picked. And the Dolphins passed on Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.

And there was an edge rusher who produced 23 career sacks in 33 games when Miami picked. And the Dolphins passed on Florida State’s Brian Burns.

Wilkins had 16 sacks in 55 games at Clemson. That’s really good for an interior lineman. He had 48 unofficial quarterback pressures. That’s outstanding.

The NFL is increasingly about generating pressure from the interior because offensive tackles have become so proficient at stopping speed rushers and quarterbacks have been so well drilled at stepping up in the pocket.

So interior pressure is very valuable.

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But there’s a reason Wilkins saw his teammate Clelin Ferrell, who was the edge rusher for Clemson, go No. 4 overall.

Because edge rushers change games. They cause strip sacks. They strike fear in offensive coordinators that must adjust their game plan.

And interior players don’t do this unless they’re Warren Sapp or Gerald McCoy or Geno Atkins. So you better hope Wilkins is a clone of one of those guys

You better hope Wilkins can be as amazing on the field as his personality seems off it.

You better hope Wilkins can become an impact player.

I asked Grier if Wilkins is indeed an impact player.

What Miami Dolphins first round pick Christian Wilkins likes about Miami; no income tax, Marino and replacing Dwyane Wade, April 25, 2019.

“Yeah, I think so,” Grier said. “That’s what, again, we liked about him. Everyone kept talking about with him the dynamic traits he has -- all the tackles for losses he’s had, pass rush from inside. When you can find those in inside players, especially the way the league is now, that’s critical. So that’s why we’re excited.”

Wilkins promised he will continue to impact his team in Miami as he did in Clemson. He promised to be the best “guy in practice” possible. He promised to meet the offense in the end zone when it scores a touchdown.

“Really, just by continuing to do what I’ve done all my career,” Wilkins said.

And that’s cool. There’s a definite need for that in the Miami locker room. Wilkins is about attention to detail and doing the little things right. At least he said he is. And that helped him to graduate from Clemson in less than three years.

But, again, the on-field performance is the thing. Not the great quote or the book smarts.

I have a concern that wants to bubble to the surface and that is that the Dolphins are kind of, sort of repeating history.

In 2015, this team believed creating pressure up the middle was the next wave of winning on defense. So Miami signed Ndamukong Suh.

And, you know what? Suh was a fine player for Miami.

Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier why Clemson's DT Christian Wilkins was their 13th overall pick in 2019 NFL Draft, April 25, 2019.

Take away the idea that Miami overpaid for the acquisition, Suh held up his part and performed. He had 15.5 sacks in three seasons and forced other teams to double team him practically every play of every game he played.

And how did that help the Dolphins win?

It didn’t really.

The Dolphins were 17-19 in the games Suh played before he was cut. He changed the arc of the franchise’s fortune not one bit from before he arrived.

Because sometimes even very good interior defensive linemen find it hard to impact games and change the fortunes of teams if they don’t play with, you know, a great quarterback. Or super productive edge rushers.

The Dolphins better hope Haskins doesn’t make it.

They better hope Burns is just a Jason Taylor clone who doesn’t actually produce like JT.

Because the Dolphins seemed to reject the argument they need impact players at impact positions by picking Wilkins.

Grier said Wilkins was the highest-graded player on the team’s board when the pick was turned in. Grier said there was no real opportunity to trade down.

“At the end, the way the draft had fallen, a bunch of teams said they were going to stay where they were,” Grier said.

That means the Dolphins went with an interior defensive lineman. They went with Christian Wilkins. They went with a “safe pick.”

Safe or not, Wilkins needs to impact this franchise on game days.

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