With the pass rush being a hot topic and recently another esteemed Revenge of the Birds writer mocking this man to the Cardinals I decided why not and pulled up a couple of Illinois games and had a look. Pass rusher is likely going to be well on the radar of the Cardinals as they enter their draft preparations and no doubt they will be doing their due diligence on all the prospects available including Whitney Mercilus.
Position: Defensive End
Projection: 2nd Round.
Background: Lightly recruited out of High School Mercilus ended up at Illinois after a senior season that yielded just two sacks. He redshirted his first season with the illini needing to put on some extra weight after coming out of High School at just 225 pounds. He played sparingly and off the bench for his second and third years at Illinois making just two starts over the two seasons and recording two sacks. He broke out as a Junior in 2011 leading the FBS in sacks with 16 and finishing second in tackles for loss with 22.5, with a big season behind him and the iron hot, he decided to strike and declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Strengths: He is probably the best run defending end in the draft, he plays with good leverage and sets the edge well forcing plays back inside for the waiting linebackers. He upper body strength allows him to push blockers backwards redirecting running plays. He uses his hands well to disengage from blocks to make plays and his relentless motor keeps him in the game even as quarterbacks extend the play or the play is directed away from him. He is a good tackler wraps up and rarely allows ball carriers to push for extra yardage. He shoots off the line low with good pad level and wins most of the leverage battles he is involved in giving him the initial advantage. Bull rushes well with his combination of upper body strength and good leverage collapsing the pocket. He has played snaps from the two point stance, but almost always rushes the passer from the stance.
Weaknesses: Mercilus is not an explosive athlete. He is not going to blast by a blocker with his first step or his speed. He has a very limited repertoire of pass rushing moves relying almost entirely on either a bull rush or initiating contact then using his hands to work off a block. He is inconsistent off the snap. If he is not timing the snap count to get a good jump he is usually the last defender to move after the snap. Does not look like the kind of fluid athlete who will be able to make the transition to playing in space in the NFL.
Overall: Mercilus is exclusively a 43 end in my eyes, he could be a good left defensive end for a team that needs someone to play the run well and chime in with a few sacks throughout the season. He is never going to be a guy who consistently puts up 13-15 sacks, but has the ability to have solid season's year in and year out. His motor will endear him to teams, but his one year of production will also raise some flags. A guy who should be an early-mid 2nd round pick, but hear his name called earlier in April.
Mercilus would not be a player I would target for the Arizona Cardinals simply because he is not going to be a player that will play well in space. He is tight around the midsection and struggles to change direction with speed. He would be nothing but a liability in pass coverage. He does however have the ability to be a pretty good player in the 43 defense as a defensive end who can both play the run well and get to the passer.