Ex-Owl Wilkerson eagerly awaits NFL draft

Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson takes a break between workouts at Competitive Edge Sports, a training facility in Atlanta.
Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson takes a break between workouts at Competitive Edge Sports, a training facility in Atlanta.
Posted: April 26, 2011

Muhammad Wilkerson was back in town to take in the April 16 Cherry and White spring football game at Temple, where the 6-foot-4, 315-pound native of Linden, N.J., completed his college career last fall as one of the top defensive tackles in the nation.

Wilkerson, who forfeited his senior year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, collected the most stops among all players at his position in the Mid-American Conference in 2010 and finished second in the league with 91/2 sacks.

With the draft opening on Thursday, Wilkerson will find out exactly how highly he is held in the esteem of pro scouts. A couple of mock drafts by notable authors have Wilkerson among the top 15 picks, and just about all the predictions list him as a first-rounder.

"A lot of teams have shown interest, and I've just been doing my visits and looking forward to the day," Wilkerson said as he watched first-year Temple coach Steve Addazio's squad complete spring drills.

Wilkerson drew raves at the NFL scouting combine in February, where he showed up 10 sculpted pounds heavier than his playing weight last season after preparing at a workout facility in Atlanta.

Opponents learned to run away from Wilkerson after watching the physical specimen wreak havoc in the trenches. He has been on the NFL's radar since 2009.

That year, pro scouts were showing up to look at Temple nose tackle Andre Neblett, now with the Carolina Panthers, and some other Owls seniors.

No doubt they noticed the big young sophomore who played sparingly as a freshman. Wilkerson regularly amazed his coaches and teammates when they'd look at the postgame film. They'd marvel at how such a physical player could also make plays with his range and ability to chase down running backs from behind.

Both Neblett and Wilkerson were first-team all-MAC selections in '09.

Another all-MAC performance last season gave Wilkerson reason to think about leaving school early, even though the 2011 NFL season appeared to be in jeopardy.

After getting a positive evaluation from the NFL advisory committee, Wilkerson sat down with his mother and their support team, and the decision was made to move on from Temple despite the threat of the lockout that eventually occurred.

Although U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an immediate end to the lockout on Monday, it was unclear when or if the NFL would resume business.

Wilkerson is in the same boat as 55 other underclassmen who elected to make themselves available for this year's draft.

"I'm just seeing everything on television and not focusing on it too much," Wilkerson said of the labor strife. "Hopefully, they come up with an agreement sometime soon. If not, I'm still going to focus on what I have to do. If there is still a lockout after the draft, we'll have to figure out where I'll be training at and go from there. I'm satisfied. I have no regrets about the decision I made."

Wilkerson's mother, Janice, said Friday that what started out as a small gathering of family and friends who want to gather on Thursday in Linden to watch the first day of the draft on television has swollen to more than 100 people.

"We had to get a bigger hall," she said.

Like her son, Janice Wilkerson understands the ramifications of continued labor problems between the NFL and its players.

"I'm antsy," Janice Wilkerson said. "It's anticipation. I'm nervous about it. I will only work one day next week. I'm a mother, and I want his day to be as perfect as possible."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

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