We're doing a little bit of alternating with these profiles. The last one was a lineman, this one is on a guy who is likely to be a stand-up, pass rushing outside linebacker in the NFL. Meet Whitney Mercilus.
Mercilus is a curious prospect, and one with a lot of unknowns. His stats this season -- 22.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks -- were spectacular. However, this was the first year that he was given the majority of snaps on defense for Illinois, so he doesn't have a consistent track record of success to point to. He had some great games and some poor games. His measurables are astonishing, but he doesn't look as strong and fast on film as he does on paper.
We don't know how Mercilus is going to look in coverage if he does end up as a linebacker in the NFL, but from his mesurables and the plays where he ends up in space against a runner, I have a hunch that he's going to learn to play in coverage without a problem. That's just one man's opinion, though. For other peoples' opinions and some objective data, read on.
Final word: Because of his first step, Mercilus should immediately contribute in the NFL as a pass rusher. His play is reminiscent of Jabaal Sheard, who had a good rookie season for the Cleveland Browns. Left school to help his family financially.
Size - 64", 261 lbs, 33 7/8" arms, 9 1/4" hands
40-Yard Dash - 4.68 seconds
Bench Press - 27 reps
Vertical Jump - 32"
Broad Jump - 118.0"
3-Cone Drill - 7.17 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle - 4.53 seconds
SB Nation Prospect Video
Wisconsin is the team in the Big Ten with the best overall offensive line and the biggest offensive line, so I thought that it would be a good game to watch to see how well Mercilus might be able to play against NFL offensive linemen. It was not a great look for him.
Pretty disappointing, overall. It would have been nice to see him against Riley Reiff as well, but Illinois did not play Iowa last season. To be fair to Mercilus, it looked like the entire Illinois team was in shambles by this point of the season. I decided to watch what I figured would be the next best thing, his game against Ohio State. This was Illinois' first loss of the season, so the wheels hadn't fallen off yet and there's no reason that he wouldn't have been completely motivated.
What an unbelievable difference! The difference in everything here is huge. He looks like he's going harder, he's faster, he's coming off blocks better, and he's more disciplined. He can still get occasionally mauled by run blockers, but this is an all-around solid performance. I think I'm going to give him a pass for the terrible Wisconsin game, and I don't think it's fair to say that he has a "bad motor" or "character concerns" or that he should "always be giving 100 percent" based on that game. By all accounts, all of his teammates had checked out as well.
Verdict: He'll be a better 3-4 OLB than 4-3 DE. And he'll go before 28.
Mercilus has fallen to the Packers and below in a number of mock drafts, but he's off the board before No. 28 in most of them. His stats and measurables compare favorably with the likes of Courtney Upshaw, Andre Branch, Nick Perry and Shea McClellin.
All of the biggest criticisms of his game have to do with him not having the strength/size/skill required to do what defensive ends are required to do in run defense. I think these concerns would be less of an issue if he was converted to outside linebacker.
We have to apply this qualifier, though: When it comes to his potential ability to play standing up and play in coverage, I am guessing. I simply don't know. I look at his measurables and I look at his rare plays in space as a defensive end and it leads me to believe that he can do it, but I really don't know. If anyone has any further knowledge regarding this subject, let us know in the comments. It's the facet of his game that could make or break his chances of receiving a first round grade from GMs.
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