Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins has finished a rather serpentine college football career, and now those years of hard work, sitting, and playing out of his mind will hopefully pay off at the next level. On Friday evening, he tweeted out confirmation that he had been invited to next spring’s 2018 NFL Combine. Go get you some, dude.
Blessings indeed. Wilkins was forced to sit out the 2016 season due to some sort of snafu in the Ole Miss academic counseling offices, that saw him not earn enough credit hours toward his degree to be eligible for NCAA play last season. Never mind all that, though, because he’s going to get a real tryout in front of real NFL talent evaluators and coaches, and in the end that’s all that matters after four or five years in the NFL’s unpaid farm system (read: NCAA).
But this wasn’t the first time Wilkins faced adversity.
The Memphis native, who prepped at St. Benedict at Auburndale High School in Cordova, Tenn., was enjoying a stellar senior campaign. The Rebel running back was in the middle of rushing for 1,041 yards and 14 touchdowns in just seven games when tragedy struck. The four-star prospect, who was committed to Auburn at the time, suffered a gruesome, season-ending knee injury and his final high school campaign was cut short.
After decommitting from Auburn later that January, the four-star No. 9 all-purpose back signed with Ole Miss in a 2013 class that also featured two other four-star backs. And what did Jordan do? Ended up as the starter his last two years in Oxford and became the first back to surpass 1,000 yards in a season since Dexter McCluster did it in 2009.
Here’s to you, Mr. Wilkins. And may you truck NFL cornerbacks into oblivion like you did during your time in an Ole Miss uniform.
Also, hurdle some while you’re at.
This is a big deal, because Wilkins basically played his way into this invite in his last year of eligibility.
In 2014, Wilkins rushed for 361 yards and a single touchdown. He logged one reception for six yards.
In 2015, Wilkins rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns. He grabbed five passes for 75 yards.
In 2016, he sat out due to academic ineligibility issues, thus losing a full season cycle of talent evaluation for NFL scouts. That sort of gap in performance will often tank a guy’s career before it even begins, but not so in the case of Wilkins.
In 2017, Wilkins rushed for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns, which nearly doubled his production in both columns for his college career. He also caught 26 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown besides. His average rushing yards per attempt were 6.5; his average receiving yards per catch were 9.3.
Those numbers from last season are probably the strongest argument for why NFL scouts want a deeper look at Wilkins’ skill-set and athleticism, and it speaks volumes to his gains in year four that he was able to earn a coveted Combine invite after such a spotty first three years among the college ranks.
Where can Wilkins contribute, then?
Pretty much all over the offensive side of the ball. He’s a receiving threat out of the backfield, and he’s squirrelly with a powerful motor and handles that can make defenders miss when rushing situations come to bear. Though a bit undersized, any pass-heavy NFL offense should give Wilkins a long look and think hard about how he can add another athletic hand in any yardage situation.
As of this writing, Wilkins has a free agent grade from Draft Analyst. But, a solid pro day and NFL Combine showing can quickly change that and he could find himself being taken off the board in the mid-to-later rounds.
He’s been proving doubters wrong for a while now. Who’s to say he won’t keep doing it?