An underdeveloped defensive end who will slide out to linebacker in a 3-4, Whitney Mercilus could probably have used a senior year before declaring for the draft. With that said, the raw, pass-rushing talent is certainly there.
The 6'3" 254-pound former Fighting Illini is long on speed and effort, winning the Hendricks Award (awarded to the nation's top defensive end) after leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles in 2011.
Analysis: The Texans drafted a bit of a tweener last year in JJ Watt. He's looking like a Pro Bowler for a long time to come. Mercilus could be the same, as a pass-rushing outside backer.
What the Experts Are Saying:
From CBS Sports' Dane Brugler:
Very active and plays with top effort on every snap. Moves all around the defensive line, lining up off the edge and inside at defensive tackle. Has the natural speed to win the edge and closes in a flash. Attacks gaps and is a pesky rusher, finding ways to squirm into the backfield. Hard player to block cleanly. Plays with a fighting mentality and has the violent hand usage to battle through the trash and make the play. Hustle player with a nonstop motor.
Perhaps Mercilus’s largest weakness is his play recognition. When he locates the ball-carrier, Mercilus can be a terror against the run. About five plays a game, though, he looks baffled as to the location of the ball (see 2:57 and 3:07 against Penn State). In the film I watched, Mercilus had trouble finding the ball and rushed hard after the quarterback on every screen pass.
Mercilus will undoubtedly begin the 2012 NFL season as a situational pass-rusher. If and when he produces in that role, he will definitely see his role increase and could very well be a starter well before the end of the year.