Originally posted on The Football Fan Spot  |  Last updated 4/24/12

Defensive End/Rush Linebacker


Illinois


6-4 261


Draft board overall prospect rank: #5


Draft board defensive end rank: #1


Overall rating: 92 (top ten prospect)


40 time: 4.63


Positives


• Incredibly productive 2011 season (57 tackles, 22.5 for loss, 16 sacks, 9 forced fumbles)

• Very consistent (TFL in every game but 1, sack in every game but 2)

• Very good pass rusher

• Wide variety of pass rush moves

• Good hand use

• Athletic

• Quick off the edge

• Explosive off the line

• Has experience rushing in a 2 point and 3 point stance

• High level of competition

• Played well against elite competition (2.5 sacks combined against Mike Adams/Ohio State and Ricky Wagner/Wisconsin)

• Adequate size to play in a 4-3 (6-4 261)

• Good 40 time (4.63)

• Athletic enough to play in a 3-4 as a rush linebacker

• Hard hitter who forced 9 fumbles

• Good tackler in space

• Played well against double teams

• Great motor

• High character kid

• Great work ethic

• Played through injury

• All the intangibles

• Breakout star who worked his way up the depth chart


Negatives


• Only average functional strength

• Can get washed against the run

• Can get over powered by bigger offensive linemen

• Only one year of production (2 sacks before this season)

• Not a lot of experience in coverage

• Could play with better leverage


NFL Comparison: Aldon Smith


This is a deep pass rusher class with guys like Mercilus, Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin, and Nick Perry all candidates to come off the board in some order in the first round and guys like Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, and Ronnell Lewis all likely to go in the 2nd round. However, Mercilus was the most productive of them all last season and I think he’s the best pure pass rusher.


Mercilus came out of nowhere this season to lead college football in sacks (16), forced fumbles (9), and come in 2nd in tackles for loss (22.5). Coming into the season, no one knew who Mercilus was. He was a mere 3 star recruit who only had 2 sacks in 2 seasons as a backup. However, he worked his way up the depth chart into the starting lineup and didn’t look back from there. He was also extremely consistent as he had a tackle for loss in every game but one and a sack in every game but two, including against Wisconsin, who has one of college football’s best offensive lines, and Mike Adams, a likely 2nd round pick.


The one year wonder thing is the reason why he’s not a legitimate consideration for the top 15. However, if Mercilus had come back for another season and had a strong year, he likely would have been a top 10 lock and a candidate for the top 5 and probably the first pass rusher off the board. At the same time, you can’t blame him for coming out and striking when the iron was hot since he’s a 1st round pick lock. His family is also having financial troubles, another reason for declaring early.


As a pass rusher, the only thing you can knock is his one year of experience because he’s the real deal in that regard of the game. In the NFL today, that’s extremely valuable. All Aldon Smith did was rush the passer as a rookie, but he still proved to be well worth a top 10 pick and may have even exceeded his draft pick with 14 sacks as a rookie, even though he was only a part time player.


Against the run, he’s only average. He has adequate size at 6-4 261 to stay as a 4-3 down lineman at the next level, but he needs to become stronger at the point of attack. He did put up 27 reps of 225 pounds at The Combine so the weight room strength is there. He’ll just need to translate that to the field, which I think he can do.


Remember, because he’s only a one year starter, he’s still incredibly raw and only scratching the surface of his potential. Aldon Smith was the same way last season and he still has a bright future as he’s expected to be a full time player in 2012. Mercilus has the same tremendous work ethic and motor as Smith so I love his chances to become that complete player.


He played hurt this season (something Smith did in 2010), playing through a finger injury. He also never takes a play off and did a great job to exceed where he was recruited and move up the depth chart to lead college football in sacks. And, given, his family’s financial situation (as the son of Haitian immigrants), he comes from humble beginnings in more ways than one. I think in a few years we’ll look back and wonder why he wasn’t drafted higher, in the top 10.


I think his draft stock starts at 18 to San Diego. Both of the top 2 pass rushers (Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples) should be off the board by that point, but from 18 to 31, there are a good amount of teams that need pass rushers. San Diego at 18, Chicago at 19, Tennessee at 20, Detroit at 23, Houston at 26, Green Bay at 28, New England at 27 and 21, and Baltimore at 29 are all options for him. He, McClellin, Jones, Upshaw, Perry, could all go in that range, it's just about the fit. Chicago at 19 is known to be interested in the local kid. That's where I have him going in my mock draft.

 

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