CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15: Dan Herron #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs as Whitney Mercilus #85 of the Illiunois Fighting Illini gives chase at Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Despite not being even in the top half of the first round, the twentieth overall pick is not one that this team has the luxury of messing up. The Titans were a team that probably overachieved to some degree last year. They have a lot of talent and truthfully a lot of really good players but I don't think any of us thought that they were in much of a position to go deep into the playoffs last year. One big area that must be addressed is pass rush. It can come from anywhere, but if we want to get specific about it, getting a defensive end who can really get after the QB would be great. A name that is often floated around when talking about the Titans is Whitney Mercilus. Call him what you want, a one year wonder, a fluke, whatever, I think that Mercilus is a star in the making.
Mercilus, in addition to having a terrific name, has a lot of things going for him. Right off the bat what you notice about Mercilus is that he was just a two star prospect coming out of high school. Bottom line: he's improved, and he's improved dramatically. Another bottom line: I don't buy into the whole "one year wonder" thing. A great season is a great season, just watch him play and you'll realize that that was no fluke. Maybe 16 sacks a season isn't repeatable in an NFL setting, if he's just 75% as productive in the NFL as he was in college (which is still up in the air given his marked improvement), he'd still bring in around 12 sacks a season.That's instantly something that I love about him because it suggests that there's still more room to grow. His leap in production just makes me feel like he's finally broken through to his second level. In one year, he made the leap from sixteen total tackles to sixteen sacks and an NCAA record nine forced fumbles. This was also in a premier, mainline NCAA conference. He wasn't destroying Sun Belt competition, he was taking on future top draft picks like Mike Adams of Ohio State (3 sacks against him in the Illini's matchup with the Buckeyes) and beating them. When, in the end, the goal of the draft is to find players from the college ranks who look like they can have success in the pros based on their successes in college, this is a good way to look at things: Whitney Mercilus had one of the most disruptive seasons ever by a college player and he did it after having not even been a full time starter in the season before that.
In addition to being a proven producer in college (numbers like that don't just happen), he's also a kind of a positional enigma. If you believe that pass rush is pass rush no matter where it comes from, you'll be intrigued by that. He's theoretically got the skills and the body to play both linebacker and defensive end, though I'd rather see him with his hands in the dirt. Players like this thrive when their coordinators move them around and give the offense multiple looks. Jerry Gray loves to move players around and give the offense multiple looks. Look for a more complex defensive scheme in 2012. His freaky-athletic build is the key here. He comes in at about 6'4" and a robust 260 lbs, exactly the same size as superstar pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and similar in size to other fantastic players like Tamba Hali (15 pounds heavier) and Terrell Suggs (one inch shorter). I'm not sure that being an inch taller is a bad thing anyways, especially if the added height gives him any additional arm length, a key attribute among defensive linemen who have to disengage from large offensive tackles in order to be good at their jobs.
His combine numbers and physical stature are very intriguing to me. While Nick Perry probably made himself a lot of money at his workouts, Mercilus certainly didn't do anything to hurt his chances at a big payday. Pass rushers in general should be big. Small pass rushers rarely have success. Well, Mercilus ain't small. He's also not slow: his 4.7 40 yard dash should clear up any concerns about him not being able to run well for a defensive lineman.
All in all, I have fallen in love with Mercilus's production and physical stats. He's not a workout demon like Vernon Gholston was, but his college stats are just too good to ignore. If a player has a good final season in college, that's what the scouts should be looking at, especially if it was simply a case of a players' playing time coinciding with his production. If both go up, that's a very good thing, and in this case, both went dramatically up. I get the feeling he is unfairly undervalued when placed next to Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram. Kamerion Wimbley was a nice piece that they front office added to the puzzle, but here is a chance to find a cornerstone that would make the sting of Derrick Morgan's underwhelming first two years much easier to bear. Mr. Webster, take a chance on Mercilus, I'd bet my bottom dollar that he becomes an NFL star.