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Wilkerson the next big thing from MAC?

Posted Apr 26, 2011

In a draft class where the depth of talent lies on the defensive line it’s easy for a Mid-American conference performer to get lost in the shuffle. Sure former MAC stars like Josh Cribbs, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Turner are names to look up to, but for Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, he’d prefer to have a career more like Cullen Jenkins.   

The defensive end for the Super Bowl champion Packers is a Central Michigan alum. Despite playing in only 11 games for the Packers he posted a career-high seven sacks and has been a reliable five-technique end for Green Bay in their 3-4 front.

“The MAC is a good conference and day in and day out you can get beat by any team,” said Wilkerson. “The MAC has talented players, they just aren’t really recognized, but they end up doing great for the organization that they get drafted by.”

Proof of that came in the fact that more than 15 players from the two Super Bowl rosters came from the Mid-American conference including Greg Jennings, who had the game-clinching touchdown reception and Niagara Falls own James Starks.

No one will need to do any convincing however, that Wilkerson is the real deal.

A two-year starter at defensive tackle for the Owls, Wilkerson dominated the competition and saved his best season for his last with 70 tackles including a team-leading 13 for loss and 9.5 sacks, which was also a team best.

What makes him particularly attractive to NFL scouts is those teams that employ a 3-4 defensive scheme or a hybrid scheme that switches between three and four man have tape of Wilkerson in both defenses.

“My freshman and sophomore year I played in a 4-3 and this past year we moved to a 3-4,” said Wilkerson who played some nose tackle and end in the under front. “It was a good experience. I really enjoyed two gapping at Temple and it let me make a lot of plays to help out the defense.”

It has also convinced most talent evaluators that he could capably play in either defensive scheme.

“Everybody is looking for those guys that can get up field and be disruptive and not just be a stay at home type,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. “Wilkerson can give you that as a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle. This is a kid that gives you a lot of scheme versatility and that helps him. I could see him going to San Diego at 18. He’s going to go pretty high.”

Most 315-pound defensive tackles aren’t even considered a possibility at end, but Wilkerson’s nimble feet make him a legitimate 3-4 end candidate for the NFL. Back in high school it wasn’t clear whether Wilkerson’s path would be football or basketball.

“My senior year I thought I’d get recruited, but it didn’t go too well. So it was then that I knew football was going to be my main priority,” he said.“But it helped me out with football as far as my footwork and being able to get around people and doing stunt moves and just moving my body differently than a regular football player.”

Running a sub-five second 40 time at the combine along with almost a nine-foot broad jump (8’10”) and a 29-inch vertical at his pro day, Wilkerson only reinforced the uncommon athleticism that he brings to the table.

“Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple is a first round player,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “He reminds me of Trevor Pryce.”

Wilkerson, a New Jersey native, prefers to model his game after New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck, who is scheme diverse.

“He’s a physical guy,” said Wilkerson. “I know he can play outside as well as inside. He’s doing a great job in New York.”

And Wilkerson is quick to remind NFL clubs that he too can line up and play effectively anywhere along a defensive front.

“Any team that’s willing to draft me, if they want me to play three technique I can play that,” he said. “If they want me to play 3-4 at the end I can play that. I have no preference. Wherever the coach wants me I’m going to be there.”

Throughout the month of April, we are running 2011 NFL Draft prospect stories each week.  In addition, Bills fans can vote in the Bills and M&T Bank Draft Day Challenge who they think will be the Bills first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, and have the chance to win a Bills Game Day Experience to remember.  Five grand prize winners will get sideline passes, M&T Bank Club tickets that include food and beverage, a Bills Alumni meet and greet and a Bills helmet.  Click here to vote.