I’ve already graded the Cowboys’ defensive linemen in 2010. In that post, you’ll notice the highest grade given to a defensive end was a ‘C’ handed out to Stephen Bowen. That’s pretty sad. The Cowboys desperately need a defensive end who can rush the passer, even if it means moving Jay Ratliff to the position.
Muhammad Wilkerson is a player I’ve had a chance to watch in person a few times. I’ll tell you right now. . .he’s one of my favorite players in this draft.
At 6’4”, 305 pounds, Wilkerson has cat-like quickness and agility. He’s an incredible athlete for his size, resembling a linebacker in the open-field. He’s quite stout at the point-of-attack, rarely getting pushed back. Check out his game against Penn State below. . .
Early in that game, Wilkerson struggled to get off of blocks. You can see that in a few of the initial plays, as he sometimes has a tendency to remain blocked if his initial move doesn’t work. He generally attacks first with a finesse move–quite unusual for a man of his size–and it is often a swim move. Sometimes, Wilkerson’s technique can suffer because he relies heavily on his snap anticipation and burst (which are both remarkable).
Still, Wilkerson became pretty dominant by the end of that Penn State game. At the 2:09 mark above, you can see what makes Wilkerson so special. He explodes off of the ball, displays a Dwight Freeney-like spin move, and gets to the quarterback in the blink of an eye.
Wilkerson also displays a good understanding of defensive concepts and diagnoses plays well. At the 2:07 mark in the video above, you can see Wilkerson rush upfield shortly before turning to run laterally, sniffing out a screen at about the same time I can recognize it on film. Not bad.
In a 3-4 defense like that of the ‘Boys, Wilkerson will play as a 5-technique defensive end. He has the size necessary to be the run-stopping end the Cowboys need with the uncertain futures of both Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky. Wilkerson can also play as a 3-technique defensive tackle in nickel situations. He has the versatility to excel at both spots.
Wilkerson is a sleeper to get selected in the first-round. You don’t easily find his combination of size and athleticism. More likely, however, you’ll see him get selected somewhere in the second round. I think that represents great value and I would have no problem with Dallas using their early second-rounder on him.
The question, however, will be if the Cowboys prioritize securing a true nose tackle (and moving Jay Ratliff to defensive end) over adding depth at end. I personally believe they should go that route, but a starting defensive line of Stephen Bowen/Jay Ratliff/Muhammad Wilkerson offers much upside as well.
Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011