Monday, May 2, 2011

Better Know a Jets Draft Pick: Muhammad Wilkerson

Ever since the NFL Draft adopted its current Thursday through Sunday format, I've found it much harder to generate and/or maintain interest in the event (as a television program). With NBA playoff games airing daily this time of year and baseball a weeknight staple, I generally haven't caught the first night of the draft on television over the past few years which, of course, makes it's hard to muster enthusiasm to tune in to separate telecasts during the weekend when the name-brand talent is off the board. Given the current state of the NFL, I assume that the draft is much more profitable in this revamped state. Luckily for the teams, the importance of the draft in terms of roster construction is unchanged whether or not I find the it suitably packaged as television programming.

With several key free agents on both sides of the ball and a recent history of prioritizing quality over quantity in recent drafts, the New York Jets entered the 2011 Draft looking to stock the cupboard. They were especially needy in the defensive front seven and addressed that need with their first two selections. At No. 30 overall, the Jets drafted defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple University. The Linden, NJ native stands 6 foot 4 inches and tips the scales around 315.

Rather than just trusting the Hair (Mel Kiper) and the Heir (Todd McShay) to tell me about Wilkerson and the rest of the newest Jets players, who were but a handful of the hundreds that they've studied over the past few months, I decided to contact Brian Dzenis, the Sports Editor of The Temple News, who has watched and covered Wilkerson for a lot longer than any talking head on television who we're likely to hear from this week. Dzenis came through in spades, answering a bunch of questions as he studied for finals and adding in some details that I hadn't come across anywhere else. For example: Against UCONN, Wilkerson caught a 3-yard pass on a fake punt play and didn't look too shabby doing it. Far and away, my favorite detail is that this defensive end wore a single digit number as part of the honor of being designated a "Temple Tough Guy" by a coach.

WWOD?: What was your initial reaction to hearing that the Jets had called for Wilkerson at No. 30?

Brian Dzenis: I'm not a huge mock draft guy, so I don't read into where players might go too much, but I certainly thought he deserved to be drafted in the first round.

WWOD?: Much of the pre-draft coverage of Wilkerson focused on his family and calm demeanor. Does that fit with the perception of Wilkerson on campus?

BD: Wilkerson is a very low-key, down to earth type of guy. In the two seasons I've covered the team, I never heard a peep about his character. He may not be the most exciting guy to talk to, but he works hard and his teammates and coaches respect him. He's a lot like his predecessors on the Temple D-line that have made it to the NFL, Terrance Knighton and Andre Neblett, they were quiet, but they always got the job done on the field.

WWOD?: Can you recall a particular game when it became clear that Mo was a bona fide NFL talent?

BD: The Penn State game this year certainly sticks out. Nine total tackles (four solo, five assisted) against a PSU O-line that gave him double teams multiple times is nothing to laugh at. His impact in a given game sometimes can't be measured on the box score, like when they played UCONN (and won), he didn't have a great game statistically, but the other guys around him on the D-line did because he could just take up so much space and create room for his teammates to make plays. He just always seems to find a way to make himself useful, whether it's the occasional multi-sack game or he'll just eat up double teams so his teammates can get to the quarterback/running back.

WWOD?: How many grains of salt, if any, should his stats and highlights be viewed given the level of MAC competition?

BD: I'm no fan of the MAC, but when he went up against Penn State and UCONN, two BCS schools, he handled himself pretty well. I think when evaluating him as a player, the thing that sticks out about him is that he's a 6-5, 300-plus pound guy who is FAST and is really consistent with his play. I imagine Rex Ryan was more impressed with his size/speed than the fact that he had three sacks in a game against Kent State.

WWOD?: Greatest on-field strength? Weakness?

BD: The guy wins nearly every one-on-one battle with offensive linemen and when he gets loose, he will end plays. I don't know how he'll adjust to being a defensive end in the NFL as opposed to a defensive tackle in college. I imagine there will be times when in NFL games, he'll be left on an island with a offensive tackle and that tackle will just get victimized by his speed. All the physical tools and work ethic is there, it's just a matter of how he'll pan out as a defensive end.

WWOD?: What's the story behind him wearing No. 9?

BD: When Al Golden was coach, he reserved the single-digit numbers for his "Temple Tough Guys," guys who exemplified Al Golden football, team values, etc. As for why he got No. 9 in particular, I have no idea.

WWOD?: On a scale of "It's a dream come true just to be in the NFL" to "We'll talk over Blue Hawaii cocktails before the Pro Bowl," how would estimate Wilkerson feels today?

BD: Definitely "It's a dream come true just to be in the NFL," He'll probably do his thing with the media when they first see him, but he likes to fade into the background and just let his play do the talking.

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