A team captain and all-conference performer at Northside High School in Belhaven, N.C., Wilson enrolled at East Carolina in Fall 2005 but wasn't allowed to join the football program until the spring semester in 2006 so he could get his grades in order.
Wilson plowed through that road block with aplomb. Not only did he become one of the finest defensive players in school and Conference USA history, but Wilson earned his way onto the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.
Despite his production (27 sacks and 45.5 tackles for losses during his career), health (he never missed a game in college), speed and strength (32 reps on 225-pound bench press and 4.88 speed in the 40), and character, Wilson's draft wait lasted until the seventh round, No. 230 overall.
Wilson's fall was inexplicable to Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and Wilson's agent, Bill Johnson. After the draft, Wilson said he was "fired up" after expecting to go as early as the fourth round.
"Sometimes guys fall like that," director of college scouting John Dorsey told Packer Report as he discussed all of the draft picks for our post-draft series. "You can't pass up good players. It gives us depth at the defensive line positions. He's got athleticism, he's got quickness, he's got strength. He can rush the passer. He's got really nice hands. There's another guy, a little bit undersized but he can hold the point. That was a nice pick right there."
At a shade less than 6-foot-3, maybe Wilson's lack of that ideal 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 frame was an issue. So, too, might have been a drop in production. After a stupendous junior season in which he was named Conference USA's MVP with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses, Wilson slipped to 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses as a senior.
"I think he's a little bit of an untapped talent," said his former position coach, Vernon Hargreaves, who moved onto South Florida with head coach Skip Holtz following the season. "He's still got a lot of football in front of him. He's a tough kid, he's durable. He played 800 snaps for us — that's a lot of snaps, man. That kind of speaks for itself in terms of what you're going to get. In that league, if he doesn't have to play every down, he's probably going to be a lot more effective at the end of the day — maybe moreso than he was for us."
Those 800 yard snaps make Wilson a similar story to fellow defensive end Mike Neal, the Packers' second-round pick from Purdue. Turn on the film, and sometimes the effort wasn't there. But as defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said in discussing Neal, it's impossible for a 290-pound man to go 100 percent on snap after snap after snap.
East Carolina Athletics
Hargreaves noted Wilson's work ethic and coachability, as well as coming from a churchgoing family. Wilson was a three-time winner of the defensive line group's Distinction of Attitude, Effort and Leadership Award. In his free time, Wilson decompresses by playing the piano.
"He doesn't do a whole heck of a lot outside of football," Hargreaves said. "It's not like he's got a big entourage or a whole lot of other things going on. He's a real good kid. I really like him. He cares. He cares about everything. He cares about what people think of him. That's why he's probably a little miffed about being selected later."
Miffed being an understatement. Wilson made his Packers debut at this past weekend's rookie orientation camp, telling Packer Report that he has a "chip on my shoulder" to prove wrong the teams that passed him by.
Along with playing on special teams, Wilson said the coaches thought he could upgrade the defensive line's pass rush, both in the base defense and when the ends go inside in nickel.
That's an area of need for the Packers. Cullen Jenkins had 4.5 of the 6.5 snaps and 25 of the 43 pressures produced by the entire defensive line.
"It's very exciting," Wilson said. "Coming here and seeing Green Bay and all the facilities and seeing some of the older guys walk through and some of the Hall of Famers when I walked in, you know you're in a place of great tradition. It's great to be here. I'm glad I'm here. I'm looking forward to the journey ahead."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.