I initially set out to write a piece comparing Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' newest outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus, to a specific pass rusher from the past of the Son of Bum. However, a funny thing happened as I began researching this piece which changed the nature of my writing.
As an aside before we jump, I hope that piece eventually comes together because I think the comparison is incredibly valid and could help shed a little more light on projecting the 2012 season for the young Fighting Illini rookie.
Now make like James Bond and jump.
Searching Whitney Mercilus now pulls up many post-draft articles about the 26th overall pick and what analysts and experts think of the pick. Most of us diehard
junkies fans know the common thought by now. It's a solid pick but...Houston had bigger needs elsewhere. Why did the Texans take a third pass rusher? Why take an outside linebacker when you already have two? Why take an outside linebacker in the first round? Why pick Whitney Mercilus? Why not re-sign Mario Williams if you wanted a pass rusher?
I find those questions funny for two reasons. First, I laugh when internet draft analysts doubt Phillips' scouting abilities. Yes, he has picked some less-than-successful players, but Phillips' track record of building quarterback-unfriendly defenses and finding those 10+ sack defenders has earned him the benefit of the doubt. A little research on the Houston 3-4 wouldn't hurt either. With that knowledge, you can see how Mercilus' strengths will be magnified under the watchful eye of one of the NFL's best defensive minds.
Secondly, I can’t help but chuckle at the blatant hypocrisy the questions create. All draft season you get the reminder that pass rushers will go earlier in the draft because of the premium put on getting after the quarterback. It’s a pass friendly league, so of course teams pounce on any perceived quality defensive end/outside linebacker. Given the statements of how Houston was surprised Mercilus made it out of the top-15, why question the Texans jumping all over a pass rusher?
Not only does it fly in the face of the importance of the pass rusher, but why are those analysts questioning the Texans building up their rotation of high-motor pass rushers when they are the same people who praise the New York Giants for their stable of unrelenting defensive linemen? While the Buffalo Bills are proclaimed the winners of free agency for adding multiple defensive ends, bringing their rotation to four, the Texans are criticized for adding a critical third pass rusher.
Whether he rotates in and helps keep Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed fresh, steps in as a starter if one of those guys gets banged up, or eventually grows into a starter by November like the aforementioned pass rusher I wanted to compare him to, Whitney Mercilus will make an impact this season. He will see the field and have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc in the backfield, so the pick wasn’t misused in any sense.
Again I ask, what’s the harm in taking a quality pass rusher, who may or may not start in 2012, in the first round? San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith started zero games, as the seventh overall pick no less, and still picked up 14 sacks. Is anyone still talking about how the 49ers should have taken a full-time starter in the top-10?
Why criticize the pick now and open yourself up to looking foolish? Give it a chance to play out before you toss out draft grades and criticism at Houston – especially when you’re praising other teams for doing the exact same thing.