Posted by Tom Fornelli
In the wake of Ron Zook's dismissal and the hiring of Tim Beckman, Illinois had already lost defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Koenning was the man who helped build one of the best defenses in not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. Now the Illini are on the verge of losing the most devastating force on that defense.
Defensive end Whitney Mercilus announced on Tuesday that he would be entering the NFL Draft.
"After a lot of prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided the time is right for me to forgo my senior year and enter the 2012 NFL draft," said Mercilus in a statement.
Mercilus was an absolute beat for Illinois on the defensive line in 2011. Mercilus was named a first-team All-American this season, and deservedly so. He finished his junior season tying the school record for sacks in a season with 16, and he set a Big Ten record with 9 forced fumbles on the year. A mark that is the second-highest of all-time in college football. Tack on his 22 1/2 tackles for loss, which also led the Big Ten, and you get a lot of quarterbacks around the Big Ten high-fiving each other on Tuesday morning.
They can all breath a bit easier now.
Mercilus is ranked third amongst defensive ends by CBSSports.com behind USC's Nick Perry and LSU's Sam Montgomery, both of whom are underclassmen as well. Neither have declared for the draft as of yet, which would leave Mercilus at the top of the list for now.