Christian Wilkins for Heisman? He deserves at least a look
|Monday, October 17, 2016, 5:01 PM- -|
Christian Wilkins won’t earn an invitation to New York City in December for the Heisman Trophy presentation, and he won’t be a part of the Heisman conversation in the days and weeks leading up to the trophy presentation.
And that’s a shame because Wilkins has arguably been the Tigers’ most important player through the first seven games of the season, and he’s done it all.
The season began with quarterback Deshaun Watson firmly in the Heisman discussion, and Watson is still in a position to earn his second invite to the Big Apple for college football’s most prestigious award. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is also in the mix, and Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers is getting recognition from around the country.
As they should. All are great players and have their teams positioned for a run in the postseason.
But Jackson hasn’t blocked a kick or been a dynamo on special teams. Peppers can’t manhandle the best left tackles in college football on a nightly basis. None of them have changed position since the end of last season.
None of them are Christian Wilkins.
Wilkins burst onto the scene last season as an athletically-gifted defensive tackle out of a prep school in Connecticut. He wound up with 84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 453 snaps over 15 games (one start) and had 12 quarterback pressures and a caused fumble.
It was his catch-and-run on a fake punt against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff’s Orange Bowl, however, that allowed Wilkins to creep into the consciousness of the national media. He became Clemson’s first defensive lineman in history to catch a pass when he hauled in that 31-yard reception on a fake punt to give the Tigers a spark in the opening half. Defensively, he finished with 10 tackles against the Sooners in just 35 snaps.
The coaching staff, knowing they would be thin on experience at the defensive end spot, toyed with the idea of moving their 325-pound tackle to end during the spring, and Wilkins performed admirably on the edge in what defensive coordinator Brent Venables termed as very limited duty. Following the spring and over the summer, the coaches became comfortable with the depth at end and made the decision that Wilkins would likely stay at tackle this season.
Late in camp, however, sophomore defensive end and projected starter Austin Bryant broke a bone in his foot, and Wilkins was back out at end the next day. He slimmed up – getting down to 309 pounds by the opener – but he was still living in a land dominated by 260 to 270-pound speed rushers. How would he perform?
Through seven games he is sixth on the team with 38 tackles in 360 snaps. He has 8.5 tackles for loss for 37 yards, three sacks for 17 yards, four pass breakups, and 11 quarterback pressures. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Wilkins and true freshman Dexter Lawrence lined up as blockers on the goal line in the opener against Auburn, paving the way for Wayne Gallman’s touchdown. Against Troy a week later, the duo again lined up in the backfield, but instead of blocking Wilkins caught a touchdown pass from Watson on a play that would prove to be critical in the Tigers’ win. Fast forward to last Saturday and Wilkins began his day by blocking an early NC State field goal attempt, bull-rushing a hapless offensive lineman on his way to the kicker.
“Coach (Dan) Brooks calls all of the field goal blocks, and it was really just a good call on his part,” Wilkins said. “It set up perfectly because you have Carlos (Watkins) and Dex (Lawrence) manhandling the guards inside, so I was able to take advantage of my guy 1-on-1 because they set me up nicely. They paid more attention to those other guys, and I got a 1-on-1 and just went up and got it. I knew we needed a play, and that could have changed the game right there if they had made that field goal.”
Later on, Wilkins lined up in punt formation and instead of catching a pass, he took the direct snap and rumbled 10 yards for a Clemson first down.
“That was a lot of fun. It's always a lot of fun when I get to tote the rock a little bit,” he said. “They were prepared for it, and they had everybody waiting. It was meant to go inside, but I had to bounce it. I am little upset, though, because I got tackled by a DB. Hey, that was a good play by him, but I wanted to show off the speed a little bit. I wanted to go screaming up the sidelines for another 40 or 50 yards.”
He’s changed positions. He catches passes for touchdowns. He runs the football. He’s a rock on special teams. He blocks kicks. He blocks for the running back on touchdown runs. Oh, and he’s pretty good at defensive end, too, but could move back to tackle in the blink of an eye.
No, he won’t get any recognition as one of college football’s best players when it comes to the Heisman. But he is.
Just don’t ask him to kick-start his campaign.
He was asked about it after Saturday’s game, and he smiled demurely and said, “Hey, I don't know. I will leave that up to you guys.”
If it were left up to me, he’d get at least one vote.
Christian Wilkins is college football's renaissance man: pic.twitter.com/iKMGtRsDd1— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 15, 2016
Evidence of that Christian Wilkins can do anything. ?? https://t.co/nqA4eWT0to— ClemsonEditz (@ClemsonEditz_) October 18, 2016