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Re: Whitney Mercilus - First Round Pick
Some thoughts of Wade on Mercilus.
All-American Whitney Mercilus ‘super excited’ to be picked by TexansPosted on April 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm by Dale Robertson
The Texans made out rather well by choosing a Big Ten defensive end in Wisconsin’s J. J. Watt a year ago, so they went back to the same well Thursday night.
They selected Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus with the 26th pick overall in the NFL draft.
But Mercilus, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, is more of a Brooks Reed – except he’s even further evolved that Reed was when the Texans chose the Arizona Wildcat with a second-round pick in 2011. And, like Reed, he’ll be converted to outside linebacker with the Phillips needing to replace Mario Williams, who was lost to Buffalo because of salary-cap problems.
“He’s more used to using his hands than Brooks was, and he’s a really good football player,” Phillips said. “By the end of the year, Brooks and J. J. were dominant players. This kid will fit right in with them.”
Looking at Mercilus junior-year stats, which were enough to wow the Texans’ coaches and scouts, it seems he’s appropriately named. No, not the Whitney part. Mercilus was, in fact, merciless for the Illini, leading the nation in both sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine) while making 22.5 tackles for losses.
In Phillips’ mind, he’s no project, despite his being a “one-year wonder” at Illinois and only 21 years old. The plan is to insert him immediately into a three-man rotation with Reed and Connor Barwin when the opposing quarterback has no choice but to throw the football.
“He’s like the guys we have,” Phillips said. “He’s a smart player (who’s) athletic, tough, physical and a self-starter, a high motor guy who plays with ability. He’s one of the top pass rushers in the draft. He’s got some natural moves. You don’t get 16 sacks in that league if you don’t have some natural gifts.”
Interestingly, Mercilus played for the same defensive line coach as Barwin had at Cincinnati, Keith Gilmore.
Phillips said he Texans had “an opportunity to trade up because we thought he was that valuable” to ensure they could choose Mercilus, the son of Haitian immigrants who decided to turn pro to help his family financially, but Phillips said they “held their ground” and still got their man. He was clearly their top choice, realistically speaking.
“When I signed my contract with (owner Bob) McNair (before the 2011 season),” Phillips said, laughing, “he told me we could get a first-round draft choice every year.”
Watt delivered the goods in 2011, starting every game as a rookie at defensive end, while Reed started the last 13 – including the Texans’ first two in the playoffs in franchise history – after Williams was lost for the season to injury. Despite their inexperience and the newness of Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, the Texans climbed from near bottom to second in the league defensively.
Mercilus played in the 2010 Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium against Baylor – forcing a Robert Griffin III fumble – but admitted the Texans weren’t on his radar screen until after he visited with team officials at the draft combine in February. He also confessed that he didn’t know much about Phillips but said he was eager to learn from him.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to be part of the Houston Texans’ system. It’s unbelievable. I’m looking to learn (but) to contribute right away.”
Mercilus likes to think of himself a something of a cross between Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney, combining power with finesse as a pass-rusher. He’s arguably the best at same to come out of Illinois since Simeon Rice, who played for 12 seasons, went to the Pro Bowl three times and earned a Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay.
The only question mark he brings to Houston is the depth of his resumé. He was hardly a star performer before last fall, starting only 15 games as a collegian. Intelligence isn’t a question mark. He graduated early with 3.0 GPA.
“I just became more astute about the game,” Mercilus said, explaining his explosive improvement. “When I got my chance, I was ready to make the most of it.”
One of the stranger – but most telling moments – of his Illinois tenure happened when he lost the tip of his left index finger in a weight-room accident, then made light of the situation. Had there been any doubting his toughness before that, none lingered.
Phillips referred to Mercilus, because of his pass-rushing acumen, as a “difference maker.” Although he didn’t always manhandle offensive tackles in college, that’s not to be seen as negative given how the Texans will use him.
“They’re going against huge offensive tackles, and he’s 260 pounds, so he’s not going to look at strong in the three-point stance. But they’ll look a lot stronger when they’re rushing the passer on third down. When you play him outside linebacker, now he’s playing against tight ends and backs.
“We’ll come up with something (that works for him). We’ll put him in there and let him rush the passer. He’s a natural. If he’d stayed (in college)for another year, he’d be a top-10 pick.”