Star DL Christian Wilkins forgoes NFL draft, keeps Clemson line intact for 2018

Clemson will have the entirety of its vaunted defensive line back for one more season, as junior Christian Wilkins will return for 2018, the school said Monday.

Wilkins, along with fellow juniors Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell and sophomore Dexter Lawrence, made up one of the most prolific defensive lines in the country last season. Clemson tied for the national lead in sacks (46), was sixth in tackles for loss (109) and eighth in yards allowed per rush (3.14).

Ferrell and Wilkins were widely considered as potential first-round selections if they had entered this year's NFL draft. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked them eighth and ninth, respectively, in his latest Big Board.

Clemson said on Saturday that Ferrell would return.

Wilkins is a two-time All-American and a do-it-all star for the Tigers. He made a major impact on the interior line as a true freshman in 2015, slid to the edge in 2016 to replace an injured Bryant and then moved back inside this year, leading a Clemson defense that was among the nation's best.

Wilkins finished the 2017 season with 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He has racked up 15 pass deflections in the past two seasons, a record for Clemson linemen.

He also has worked in the jumbo set on offense and has been utilized as a rusher and a receiver on several trick plays on special teams.

Wilkins wrapped up his undergraduate degree from Clemson in the fall and walked with the seniors during the Tigers' final home game, leading to speculation he would depart for the NFL. The decision for him to return certainly sets Clemson up for another big season in 2018.

Clemson returns eight starters on defense for 2018, including linebacker Kendall Joseph and cornerback Mark Fields, both of whom also considered turning pro before deciding to return.