Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 1/3/12

University of Illinois junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus announced today that he will forgo his senior season at Illinois to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.

 Mercilus who has the best name a defensive line man can have, emerged from total obscurity to have a banner year for the Fighting Illini, tying Simeon Rice’s single-season record and leading the nation with 16 sacks.

He also forced nine fumbles on the season, breaking Illinois and Big Ten records and ranking as the second-most in NCAA history. His 22.5 tackles for loss in 2011 led the Big Ten, rank second in the nation and third in the Illinois record book.

Mercilus earned consensus first-team All-America honors, the first Illini to do so since linebacker J Leman in 2007, won the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end and was named the College Football Performance Awards National Defensive Player of the Year.

He also led an Illinois defense that ranks in the top-10 nationally in total defense, passing defense, sacks and tackles for loss.

Mercilus is the seventh Illini in the last five years to enter the draft with eligibility remaining. The previous six all were taken in the first three rounds, including three first rounders ­– running back Rashard Mendenhall to the Steelers in 2008, cornerback Vontae Davis to the Miami Dolphins in 2009 and defensive tackle Corey Liuget to the Chargers in 2011. Illinois has had five underclassmen picked in the first two rounds since 2008, which is tied for the second-most among all college football behind only Alabama’s six.

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