Week 8 / North Carolina State 5-0 (2-0 ACC) vs. Clemson 6-0 (3-0 ACC)

3:30pm ET | ABC

OC
#65 Garrett Bradbury
Rimington Award Watch List (best center)
vs
DT
#42 Christian Wilkins
2018: 23 tackles (5.5 TFL), 2.5 sacks

Analysis

This promises to be an excellent matchup between an already well-known name, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and a name that all draftniks will be familiar with by draft time, North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury.

To the surprise of many, Wilkins opted to return to school this season for his final year of eligibility and his decision was a smart one.  After receiving a second-round grade back from the NFL’s advisory committee, Wilkins was one of the few college players that actually took the board’s recommendations and worked to improve his game. 

Going into this season, one knock that some scouts had on Wilkins was that his game was too finesse. Like many players with high-end athletic ability, Wilkins tended to rely too much on his get-off quickness and short-area niftiness to slip and jump-around blocks.  While it’s hard to question a player for using what works best for him, and Wilkins has been a highly productive player his entire Clemson career, he will not be able to simply out-athlete people when he gets to the next level.  

Unlike many undersized DT that have no choice but to use their quickness to beat blocks, Wilkins actually has the lower mass and upper body power to compliment his athleticism. Wilkins reported to fall camp this year at 312 pounds, which is up ten pounds from a year ago, and he did 30 bench reps (at 225 lbs.) so there is power in his body.  

Many people remember Wilkins for his celebration dance following the ’16 national title game versus Alabama and I go back to that moment to make that point that scouts always look at things through an evaluative lens.  What my scouting eyes saw was a super-flexible and uncommonly nimble big man and Wilkins’ ability to dip and bend under and around blocks is what makes him such a disruptive player.  

Like Wilkins, the two things that jump out on tape with Bradbury are his initial quickness and overall mobility.  In order to handle someone as slippery as Wilkins one-on-one, an offensive lineman must have what scouts commonly refer to as “recoverability” and Bradbury is excellent in that area.  

While it is mostly used as a term for cornerback’s ability to stick with people in coverage, offensive linemen must have good “reactive athleticism” to mirror an opponent’s movements and stay in front of them.  In the tape we have seen so far on Bradbury, he rarely off balance or out of position. Even when guys manage to get on his edges, which Wilkins will certainly do on Saturday, Bradbury has the foot quickness to recover and re-establish leverage.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of evaluating players is when you come across a guy that does something at truly elite and Bradbury’s ability to reach block is on that level. The best centers in the NFL generally are adept at snap-stepping, which is exactly what it sounds like—the ability snap the ball and make the initial step at same time.  Bradbury’s ability gain ground right off the snap allows him to work laterally about as well as any center I have seen in recent years.  

NFL scouts are always looking for great individual battles and in this matchup they will be focused on how consistently Bradbury can reach Wilkins at his three-technique alignment (outside shade of the guard).  Wilkins is difficult to block once he gets on the move so if Bradbury can handle him on zone runs it will help boost his draft stock.  

The Senior Bowl is hoping this is just Round 1 between Wilkins and Bradbury and the re-match happens in Mobile during our practices from January 22-26.

The Senior Bowl saw N.C. State play in the season-opener versus James Madison and we will see Clemson a week from Saturday when they play at Florida State. 

OTHER MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Mississippi State S Johnathan Abram vs. LSU TE Foster Moreau 
Abram and Moreau are usually the toughest players on any field they step on so we will be keyed in on the matchup between these two throwback-type competitors.

Colorado LB Drew Lewis vs. Washington RB Myles Gaskin 
Lewis is a fearless and violent second-level player and he will be looking to slow down the undersized but elusive Gaskin.   

Oregon DL Jalen Jelks vs. Washington State OT Andre Dillard 
Twitch vs. twitch. Dillard has such good feet that he is seemingly always balanced and square in front of defenders but NFL scouts will want to see how he handles someone with Jelks’ length.

Florida Atlantic CB Shelton Lewis vs. Marshall WR Tyre Brady
Lewis has an intriguing blend of size and athleticism and he will be put to the test on the outside against Brady, who is getting a lot of attention from NFL scouts. 

-- Jim Nagy, Reese's Senior Bowl Executive Director