04/30/2012 - A closer look at the Texans' picks: Round 1/26 - Whitney Mercilus, OLB, 6-4, 261, Illinois...He'll move to outside linebacker in the 3-4 and learn behind starters Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. All three should play in passing situations. - The Sports Xchange
Mercilus' startling 2011 season sent scouts scrambling to learn more about him, and the news was better than expected. After two mediocre seasons at Illinois, Mercilus used cat-like moves to become an All-American and win the Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive end in the country. He led the nation with 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and had 22.5 tackles for a loss. Of all his statistics, forced fumbles is the one that many scouts admire most.
"I just have a knack for it," he said. "Throughout the game I was able to watch the quarterback's movements and just see him open up and then I just go in there and just knock it away."
Scouts gush a list of positives traits, including quickness, agility, strength, instincts, condition, attitude ... and he is just beginning to mature and could be a great outside linebacker. Reaching for comparisons, they mention names like Simeon Rice, Dwight Freeney, Richard Dent, and even the great Reggie White.
The U.S.-born son of parents who emigrated from Haiti in the 1980s, Mercilus played mostly soccer until high school. His 2011 season had an auspicious beginning when he lost the tip of his left index finger last spring in a weight-room accident. Teammates were shocked when he light-heartedly dismissed the injury as only a bother when he played the keyboard or tried to pick up coins.
Pass rush: Very active and plays with top effort on every snap. Moves all around the defensive line, lining up off the edge and inside at defensive tackle. Has the natural speed to win the edge and closes in a flash. Attacks gaps and is a pesky rusher, finding ways to squirm into the backfield. Hard player to block cleanly. Plays with a fighting mentality and has the violent hand usage to battle through the trash and make the play. Hustle player with a nonstop motor. Tends to play high and doesn't worry much about technique or fundamentals. Still developing his snap anticipation and will jump offside at times.
Run defense: Lacks an obvious power element to his game and struggles to shed blocks on run plays. Doesn't consistently set the edge and will over run his responsibilities. Still developing his recognition skills and instincts. Struggles to consistently locate the ball and will get caught out of position at times.
Explosion: Fires off the snap with a first step burst that really stands out. A bit tight in the hips and straight-linish in his movements. Lacks great change-of-direction ability to explode laterally or smoothly redirect his momentum.
Strength: Has adequate build with very good length and overall measureables. Plays tough with the hand strength to rip the ball out and force fumbles. Lacks an ideal frame for the position and doesn't have the prototypical muscle definition. Lacks great bulk and doesn't have a lot of room to get much bigger.
Tackling: Physical in the trenches and doesn't try to avoid contact. Has long arms to wrap and wrestle ballcarriers to the ground. Takes pride in his ability to finish and complete tackles.
Intangibles: Has only one year of starting production under his belt, causing questions about being a "one year wonder" and was a relative unknown entering the 2011 season. Had above average production in 2011, leading the nation in sacks (16.0) and forced fumbles (9) and finishing second in tackles for loss (22.5) -- consistent production week-in and week-out as a junior in 2011. Decided to leave early to help his family financially (both his parents are immigrants from Haiti).