The newest Houston Texan already had an impressive day in Lucas Oil Stadium - the first of many.
The long Texas nightmare is over. The Houston Texans passed on Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, and were spared any shot at Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright. With pick 26, your Texans' braintrust took Illinois defensive end, soon-to-be outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus.
Who is Mr. Mercilus? What does he bring to the table? How does this impact the Texans? Let's take a look...after the jump.
Mercilus, 6'4'' and 261 pounds from Akron, Ohio, started one year at Illinois before declaring early. He made the most of his year as he tallied 54 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, and nine forced fumbles. To be brief, he's disruptive and a terror in the backfield. Watch any Illinois game in 2011 and it is going to feature Mercilus making an impact. If you wonder why the Texans, led by defensive guru Wade Phillips, chose him that's your answer. Mercilus fits the defensive mold of being a disruptive backfield force.
Mercilus, when you watch footage, is all about getting upfield. He doesn't waste time and has, arguably, the most varied set of pass rush moves out of anyone in this year's class. While watching him during the pre-draft, I've seen a bull rush, a rip-and-dip move, and an inside-counter move. The moves, as with any rookie, could use some refinement, but we've seen plenty of one-move pass rushers enter the league, so the All-American is ahead of the game, so to speak.
Mercilus has also got very active hands, another pass rushing key. The Mercilus One has explosive speed (4.68 40-yard dash and 1.57 10-yard dash) for a man his size which adds to his edge rush and incredibly dangerous bull rush. Playing in the Big Ten, he also has faced guys like Iowa's Riley Reiff and Ohio State's Mike Adams, to name a few NFL-quality talents, so he didn't pad his stats or tape on cupcakes.
Where does Wade's newest toy need work? I would say shedding blocks and run play recognition, but that's a defensive trait which isn't as needed from a Wade outside linebacker. Mercilus has got the strength and hand use to learn how to anchor the edge though, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him grow into the role. Some teams were shied off by finding his natural position and others likely moved away due to his one-year status, but Mercilus says he was still learning the position and Houston, obviously, feels as if he's only going to continue learning and growing.
Mercilus likely enters camp challenging for starting linebacker spot with second-year player Brooks Reed. I believe he's more talented and will eventually grab that starting gig, but they both will see snaps as Houston will employ a rotation with those two and Connor Barwin. For the nickel, I'll give the edge to Mercilus simply due to his strength advantage over Reed to better hold the edge. It should be noted that post-pick comments from Wade suggest he may think up a formation to place all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time.
Overall, the Texans let the draft come to them and added an incredibly talented pass rusher. Building a rotation of relentless pass rushers is going to keep this defense strong in 2012 and adds a layer of 2013 protection in case Barwin and the Texans don't reach an agreement on an extension.
For pick 26, I think the Texans did as well as anyone could have hoped, and there's plenty of talented wide receivers for them to consider tomorrow. Agree? Disagree? Have more to add on Whitney Mercilus? Sound off in the comments on your newest Texan.