Titans’ Mike Vrabel has had Clemson's Christian Wilkins on his radar previously

Erik Bacharach
The Tennessean

INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Wilkins is a New Englander. Born in Springfield, Mass., schooled at Suffield Academy in Connecticut.

So of course Mike Vrabel, the three-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker with the Patriots, was on Wilkins’ radar growing up … long before the script flipped and Wilkins turned up on Vrabel’s radar.

It began when Vrabel was a coach at Ohio State attempting to recruit the 6-foot-4, 312-pound Wilkins before he eventually decided Clemson was the best fit. And it continued this past week in Indianapolis, when Vrabel was on Wilkins’ case again, this time as the Titans coach at the 2019 NFL combine.

Wilkins on Saturday said he had already met with Titans defensive line coach Terrell Williams – “It went pretty well,” Wilkins said – before a scheduled formal meeting with the team that night.

“Coach Vrabel, me and him have a little bit of a relationship,” the Clemson defensive tackle said. “Me being from Massachusetts, I was always a Patriots fan, so I knew who he was growing up and things like that. He actually recruited me when I was at Suffield Academy and he was at Ohio State, so we have a little bit of a relationship there."

A first-round target

In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Wilkins landing in Nashville. Wilkins makes sense for the Titans with the 19th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, with Tennessee in the market for a piece to complement four-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey on the defensive line.

Wilkins, who said he’s “best suited as a three technique” on the defensive front, would give the Titans just that. He had 51 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks last season on a loaded Clemson defensive line.


“Tennessee got very little last season from free-agent addition Bennie Logan, and the defense could upgrade on either side of ... Jurrell Casey in its 3-4,” Kiper wrote in his latest mock draft. “Wilkins (6-4, 312) could play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4. The Titans will likely keep a close eye on edge-rushing outside linebackers here, but the value with Wilkins on my board is too good to pass up."

And if he proved anything at the combine (where he ran a 5.04 40-yard dash and had 28 reps on the 225-pound bench press), it’s that he’d be a fit in the Titans locker room because of more than just his on-field prowess.

An ideal fit

Wilkins’ college days consisted of nothing but “academics and football, sleep and eat."

"Didn't have the bigger social life or anything like that,” he said, “but I enjoyed it.”

He remembers one semester during football season in which he took 18 credits. That’s how you end up with an undergraduate degree in communications (with a minor in athletic leadership) and a masters degree in athletic leadership in just four years – while also positioning yourself to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine Sunday in Indianapolis.


Relative to those days, Wilkins has a lot more time on his hands now. A lot of it is still dedicated to football, but he's making a conscious effort to ensure some of it still goes toward the books.

"Still trying to challenge myself intellectually," said Wilkins, Clemson’s first winner of the William V. Campbell trophy, given to the college football player with the best combination of academics, community service and on-field performance. "I've been picking up reading a lot more now. I'm trying to start doing that as well, just stay smart, stay sharp. I don't have class or school anymore to challenge me, so I've got to do something with that free time."

No, it’s not just the Titans locker room where Wilkins would be an excellent fit.

Reach Erik Bacharach at ebacharach@tennessean.com and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.

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