Monday Morning Quarterback: Wilkins has to make a decision on his future at Clemson
It will finally be all over today.
Since Clemson’s season came to an end on Jan. 1 with its Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama, fans and media alike have been wondering what some of the Tigers’ draft eligible players will do. Will they go to the NFL and forgo the rest of their college careers or will they return to school for another season?
So far, four have said they will return and four have said they will test the waters of the NFL early. In both situations there have been some surprises and some that we expected.
When left guard Taylor Hearn said he was leaving school prior to the Sugar Bowl it caught some people off guard. Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud’s entry into the draft was definitely a shock as was safety Van Smith’s decision to leave school early.
However, no one was surprised to see wide receiver Deon Cain leave school. He was expected to leave early all along.
On the other side, the return of defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant caught everyone by surprise. Both were expected to leave school for the NFL. But after both received second-round grades by the NFL Draft Advisory Board, they felt they could benefit one more year by returning to school.
Left tackle Mitch Hyatt’s return to the offensive line was a little surprising to some. However, there was chatter weeks ago that he was leaning on returning for his senior season because he did not like the way he played in 2017. He felt he could play much better and could use another year in college to improve.
In case you are wondering, Hyatt was a First-Team All-American this past season and took home the Jacob’s Award as the ACC’s Best Offensive Lineman. He was the first Clemson offensive lineman to do that since 1987.
Now we wait for Christian Wilkins’ decision. The good news is we will not have to wait for long. Today is the final day for underclassman to declare themselves eligible for the NFL Draft.
No one really knows which way Wilkins will lean. As The Clemson Insider reported a few weeks back, people we spoke to in his camp said he was leaning towards leaving Clemson to pursue a career in the NFL. But after getting back a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and now learning two of his closest friends in Ferrell and Bryant are returning to school, there is an obvious conflict for the graduate student.
As of Saturday night Wilkins has not made a decision. He told his teammates that when he spoke at the 2017 Clemson Football Banquet that night.
Wilkins, who earned his Clemson undergraduate degree in just three years, has been a two-time first-team All-American. He will be presented the Willis Award as the top Defensive Lineman in the nation by the Columbus (Ohio) Touchdown Club in February.
He was named a first-team All-American this year by Sporting News and the American Football Coaches Association and a second-team selection by the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation. He finished the year with 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
With eight starters already back from a defense that finished fourth in the nation in total defense and second in scoring defense, plus led the country in sacks and ranked fourth in passing defense and sixth in tackles for loss, the Tigers are already expected to be really good in 2018. Add Wilkins back in the mix and all of a sudden this defense has an opportunity to be the greatest defense assembled in Clemson history.
In 2017, the Tigers led the ACC in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense for the first time in the program’s storied history. Should Wilkins return and join his fellow teammates—Ferrell, Bryant and Dexter Lawrence—across the defensive front, Clemson will be tough handle in 2018.