The Curious Case of Whitney Mercilus

With Israel Idonije on the cusp of free agency and very few proven options on the roster outside of Julius Peppers, defensive end truly is a key need for the Bears' defense, and a name that's come up often recently is Illinois product Whitney Mercilus. Leaving aside my Sunday Video of the Day post, the Daily Herald says defensive linemen are ranked well above average in the draft "partly because Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus renounced his final season of eligibility after leading the nation with 16 sacks and 9 forced fumbles." Dan Pompei of the Tribune quoted an NFC personnel director as saying, "He is a very good athlete who clearly has all the tools." He won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end and an NFL scout told the Sun-Times "Mercilus is a speed rusher with excellent athletic ability."

But even with that said, I'm not so sure Mercilus is a guy the Bears should target at #19 in the first round.

The first and probably biggest problem I have is that this last season was his first full season starting - prior to this year he had two sacks and two starts in his NCAA career. That's not much of a body of work. Coming out of high school, he was a two-star recruit who redshirted his freshman year. Not a guy that most were clamoring for - he picked Illinois over Kansas, Michigan State, Cincinnati and Purdue.

Second, his initial draft grade was as a third-round pick. A third-rounder isn't bad at all, far better than I could do, believe you me. But what exactly has he done since then to earn his mid-first-round stripes? Say things that sound good to NFL GMs? Perform well at the glorified track meet that is the NFL Combine?

Also in the Sun-Times article, his comparison is Jason Pierre-Paul. I have nothing against Jason Pierre-Paul at all, but not every player that comes out after one breakout year drafted in the middle of the first round will perform the same.

Last, let's go through his analysis per CBS Sports. As a pass rusher, he's a high motor guy with good speed and an ability to get into the pocket, but doesn't have the necessary power to play against the run, and isn't going to be able to get much more size on his frame. Ironically enough, I think the Bears drafted a similar player in 2010...

Uses his 6-7 frame, long arms and good quickness to blow by collegiate right tackles on the outside. Can be violent with his hands to get the corner. Some suddenness on shake move to use an inside rush lane. If his man doesn't sustain, [he] works his way back into the pocket to harass the quarterback.

...

Looks and plays a bit undersized, even at 265-270 pounds, because of height.

...

Very quick off the snap for his size, partially because his long steps make up ground quickly. Could be a penetrating disruptor as a pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme because of his initial quickness.

Hmm. 4-3 end/ 3-4 LB 'tweener with good pass rushing skills, a little lacking in the power department, with solid initial quickness? Sounds a little similar to Corey Wootton to me.

Obviously, judging by my former username, I'm an Illinois fan, and I enjoyed watching Mercilus this season. But I'm not sure I want to draft him with the Bears' first round pick. I know having only one year of starting in college isn't a precursor to draft doom or the Hall of Fame (paying attention, ESPN?), and I know that once the player is drafted, draft position is irrelevant, as is his high-school recruiting status, but I would have liked to see him stick around for his final year and solidify himself.

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