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What to know about Christian Wilkins, the Raiders' new star defensive tackle

The Las Vegas Raiders' first splash signing of free agency comes in the form of a big presence on the defensive line – Christian Wilkins.

The defensive tackle spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. This signing could be momentous to a Silver and Black defense that ranked among the best in the league in the latter half of the 2023 season. It's also worth noting Wilkins is coming off one of his best seasons to date with a career-high nine sacks and 23 quarterback hits.

Here are a few things to know to get acquainted with the Raiders' new big man in the trenches.

New England roots

Christian Wilkins is one of 15 current NFL players born in the state of Massachusetts and the youngest of nine children. The Springfield native was a high school phenom in the New England area, becoming a five-star prospect after transferring to Suffield Academy in Connecticut his sophomore year. He had 253 tackles and 28.5 sacks before committing to Clemson University.

"His leadership is phenomenal," Drew Gamere, former head coach at Suffield, said in 2015. "When your best player physically is also the most coachable and one of the hardest workers, it certainly makes my job a lot easier. It's easy to be at your best when things are going well."

Top of the class

Wilkins, along with NFL defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell, made for one of the most dominating defensive lines in college football history at Clemson University. In Wilkins' senior season in 2018, the unit allowed the fewest points to opposing offenses in the nation, en route to their second National Championship in three years.

He was a two-time All-American under Dabo Swinney, and accumulated 40.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks throughout his collegiate career. Additionally, he was the recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy, regarded as the "Academic Heisman" in college football. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's degree in athletic leadership, plus worked as a substitute teacher during the second semester of his senior year.

It was also in college he was dubbed as "Mr. Frugality" from his friends and teammates, notoriously known for living "a low maintenance" lifestyle that he has continued even to today. At Clemson, he would often wear team issued-clothing and refrain from making many luxurious purchases.

Miami connections

Familiarity with the Raiders coaching staff also makes the Silver and Black a logical landing spot for the interior lineman.

Patrick Graham, the Raiders defensive coordinator, was in the same role in Miami when the team drafted Wilkins in 2019. Additionally, defensive line coach Rob Leonard was in Miami for three seasons with Wilkins, serving as assistant defensive line coach in 2020.

In Wilkins' rookie season, he started 14 games and compiled 30 solo tackles and two sacks.

Elevating the defense

Acquiring Wilkins should assist the edge rushers around him including Pro Bowler Maxx Crosby, Malcolm Koonce and 2023 first-rounder Tyree Wilson.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the former Miami Dolphin was in the top seven of all defensive tackles in total pressures (61), double team pressures (18) and sacks (nine) in 2023. The Raiders interior defensive linemen combined for 15 double team pressures last season.

In three career games against the Raiders, Wilkins totaled 10 solo tackles and three tackles for loss.

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