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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Draft preview series: Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus

By Bryan Broaddus and Tim MacMahon

The 18th installment of our draft preview series focuses on Illinois defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.

Scouts Inc. ranks: No. 7 defensive end, No. 37 overall
Bio: Led the nation with 16 sacks and an NCAA-record-tying nine forced fumbles as a redshirt junior in 2011, when he also had 57 tackles, including 22.5 for losses. Was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award and semifinalist for the Bednarik, Lombardi and Hendrick Awards in his only season as a full-time starter at Illinois. Had only two sacks, 6.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles in the previous two seasons.

Whitney Mercilus
Illinois' Whitney Mercilus led the nation in sacks (16) and set a Big Ten record with nine forced fumbles.
Size: 6-foot-3 5/8, 261 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds
225-pound bench press reps: 27 times
Vertical jump: 32 inches
Broad jump: 9-foot-10
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds
Three-cone drill: 7.17 seconds

Broaddus Breakdown (viewed Arizona State, Northwestern and UCLA games): Played as the strong defensive end in a four-man line for Illinois. Will project to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL. … Physically is a good-looking player and plays with a great deal of quickness. Does a really nice job of rushing up the field and putting pressure on the blocker. Gives you a variety of pass-rush moves. … Of these defensive ends that are projected to linebacker, he and Andre Branch of Clemson did the best job of playing with pass-rush moves. Mercilus will explode up the field, gauge the depth of the tackle, and when they raise their hands to punch him, he will slap them down and take the corner. Used this technique for a sack against UCLA. … Likes to also set the tackles up by going hard up field and getting all their weight on the outside foot, then spinning inside. Was able to pull this move off against Northwestern for a sack. … Really nice lateral movement and quickness. In the running game, played the trap block with the correct shoulder, which allowed him to hold his ground and keep the ball inside and allow his teammates to make the play. … Did a solid job against Arizona State when he was rushing hard up field and they tried to run a draw. He was able to fight the blocker and retrace his steps to get in on the tackle. … Has the quickness to play around blocks but will also show a physical side to his game to hang in there against the run. Had a tackle for loss when he worked down the line of scrimmage, beating the block against UCLA. … Is a much better player when he can do things on the move instead of trying to fight the blockers one-on-one. … Thought he needed to at times do a better job of extending his arms and getting off the blockers a step quicker. There were times where he was just locked up for too long. This doesn’t always happen, but he needs to disengage quicker. Think he could be a much more effective player if he was able to correct this. … The area that bothered me the most about Mercilus was there were times where he flat didn’t find the ball. It was bad in the UCLA game, but really noticeable against Northwestern. The main reason for this was he got hooked up on blockers too long. Thought he could have shown some better instincts when he came to locating the ball. At linebacker, you have to be able to play with instincts and feel. … Saw him play in a two-point stance against UCLA as an inside backer on a nickel rush, but that was the only time that I saw him do this. Will need to be trained how to drop and cover. … As mentioned, played as a strong defensive end at Illinois but will most likely play as a weak outside linebacker in NFL and rush the passer. Comes with a better than average skill set as a rusher.