Illinois junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus and senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.
Mercilus was drafted by the Houston Texas as the No. 26 pick. Jenkins was taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the 30th pick.
Mercilus entered the draft following a breakout junior season during which he led the nation with 16 sacks, 1.23 sacks per game and nine forced fumbles. He also had 57 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, one pass break-up and one fumble recovery. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award for the best defensive end in the country.
Jenkins caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He led the Big Ten and was 16th in the nation with 6.9 receptions per game. He had 12 receptions for 268 yards in a win over Northwestern last season. He finished his Illini career ranked third in receptions (167), receiving yards (2,432) and receiving touchdowns (19).
“My agent told me I was going to be pretty much in late first, early second round,” Jenkins said by teleconference. “It just caught me off guard because I was in the bathroom. My cousin ran to the door with the phone in his hand. I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was just crazy.”
Mercilus and Jenkins are the fourth and fifth Illinois players to be drafted in the first round in the last five years. They join defensive tackle Corey Liuget (San Diego Chargers, 2011), cornerback Vontae Davis (Miami Dolphins, 2009) and Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008) as recent first-round picks.
Illinois had three players drafted in the first three rounds last year.