When the Miami Dolphins selected Clemson stand-out Christian Wilkins with their first-round pick in 2019, there seemed to be a resurgence of faith in the struggling organization. Easily the best player available, it was easy to imagine the defensive tackle clogging up holes in the interior of Brian Flores’ defense for years to come.
As the 13th overall selection, Wilkins was one of the most explosive and disruptive dual-threats in the draft class. More than capable of busting through the interior and disrupting the quarterback, he had been known to make plays in the run game—not to mention, eat up a TON of space while doing so.
As the season began, the draftee failed to live up to the hype, leaving much to the imagination. But slowly, Wilkins seemed to materialize into explosive rookie that the Dolphins had dreamed of. By year’s end, Pro Football Focus recoded his total pressures in 2019 as 30, making him one of the most aggressive defensive interior rookies in the game. And he’s more ready than ever to come back and explode in 2020.
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Building the Line
Last year, the Dolphins defense ranked in last place against both the run and the pass, according to Football Outsiders. The team’s only two bright spots on the defensive line, Taco Charlton and John Jenkins, are no longer in Miami, so where does that leave the team this year?
Heading into 2020, Wilkins is far better equipped as a starter to cause disruption early in the season. Free agency saw the acquisition of Shaq Lawson from the Bills and Emmanuel Ogbah from the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs. Alabama’s Raekwon Davis will also join the squad of defenders, allowing for Wilkins to take a more signature role as a penetrator—the strength that gave him weight in the draft.
There is a good chance that Wilkins and tackle Davon Godchaux will be the only players from last year’s defensive line who will remain starters, but there’s no question with the team’s new additions that this line will be a productive group. The group has four potential starters in Wilkins, Godchaux, Ogbah, and Lawson, but more often than not, the Dolphins can be expected to line up with any three of these playmakers to best utilize and preserve their weaponry.
Wilkins has not been as active as many of his teammates in sharing how he’s been spending his time preparing for the upcoming season while in quarantine, but he certainly has a re-ignited fire beneath him as he prepares to achieve in the coming season. The tackle shared an emotional post on his Instagram account regarding the current national crisis surrounding race relations and police violence.
“In my 24 years of life, I have witnessed immediate family and close friends have negative encounters with law enforcement,” Wilkins writes. “It has hurt me to go through these experiences. That pain reached an all time high when the man I loved most in the world was taken from my family.”
Many who know the Springfield, Massachusetts native as a player know the story behind his college jersey number, 42, which honors the year his grandfather was born. Eurie Stamps Sr. was shot and killed in 2011 in his own home by a SWAT member, making the current failures of the American justice system even more personal to Wilkins. Still, through the darkness, Wilkins is reminded of light.
“In the midst of chaos, I wanted to bring a message about community and optimism. People may ask me how I am able to strive, but the truth is it’s a struggle. I battle daily for success; because I’m doing it for him,” he says of his grandfather in his post. He goes on, “Negativity is infectious and positivity is contagious… no matter which one you put out somebody is going to catch it.”
The post, from Wednesday, has received over 12,000 likes—many from teammates, including fellow linemen Jason Strowbridge, as well as Godchaux and Davis.