As the 2012 NFL Draft draws closer, Cleveland Browns fans are fully engaged in debate over which top offensive target will help the Browns finally get out of the AFC cellar next season. Trent Richardson, Ryan Tannehill and Justin Blackmon have all dominated Cleveland's headlines and some fans have completely dismissed the need for additional defensive prospects throughout the draft process.
Whitney Mercilus is the one defensive player that might be able to change Browns fan's minds when it comes to who would be the best fit in Cleveland next season.
Mercilus is a defensive end with the ability to play outside linebacker in almost any NFL defensive system. According to his scouting report at CBS Sports, "Scouts gush over a list of positive traits, including quickness, agility, strength, instincts, condition, attitude … and he is just beginning to mature and could be a great outside linebacker. Reaching for comparisons, they mention names like Simeon Rice, Dwight Freeney, Richard Dent, and even the great Reggie White."
Mentioning players like Freeney and White in the same sentence as Mercilus should give a good indication of what NFL scouts are expecting over the next few seasons. Even though those comparisons may be premature, it is still enough of a reason to consider how the Browns could benefit from adding Mercilus next season.
Mercilus' scouting report on Walter Football also explains his abilities in great detail: "Mercilus has a very impressive repertoire of pass rushing moves. He attacks with speed around the edge. As a counter to the speed, he has the strength to execute rip moves and shed offensive linemen. Mercilus has the raw power to get under offensive linemen's pads and bull rush into the pocket. That catches linemen by surprise as they are so cognizant of being ready for his speed rush. Beyond his great physical skill set, Mercilus is an advanced pass-rusher technically."
Cleveland has a need at both defensive end and outside linebacker due to a revolving door of injuries and the age of the current linebacker corps. Scott Fujita may be facing possible punishment from the NFL for his alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and Chris Gocong has been inconsistent.
The Browns signed free agents Frostee Rucker and Jaqua Parker in order to fill the void at defensive end, but still do not have the type of player than can disrupt an opposing team's scheme. Rucker was reportedly promised the starting job at right end next season, but was not promised that the Browns would not bring in competition.
Mercilus will not be the Browns pick at number four and will likely be off the board when the Browns select a second time at 22. The only way Mercilus becomes a real option for Cleveland is if the team makes a trade in the first round. There has been plenty of rumors floating around that the Browns are willing to move from the fourth overall position, but there has been little talk of Cleveland moving up from 22.
Mercilus became a defensive juggernaut in 2011 as he posted 22.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks. The Browns have not had a player with that type of production in the last two decades.
Cleveland's draft strategy will likely remain on the offensive side unless a trade forces their hand at some point in the first-round. Browns fans will be watching closely in hopes that the franchise makes the right decisions and fields a team the fans can be proud of.