Dec 31, 2011; San Francisco CA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Whitney Mercilus (85) lines up for a play against the UCLA Bruins during the third quarter at AT

Detroit Lions Draft Prospects: Whitney Mercilus

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Photo Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN’s Todd McShay released a new mock draft yesterday and we see a new name emerge for the Lions with the 23rd pick.

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 261 lbs
Arm Length: 33-7/8″
40-yard Dash: 4.68 sec
Vertical Jump: 32″
Broad Jump: 118″
Bench Press: 27 reps
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.53 sec
3-Cone Drill: 7.17 sec
Watch his combine workout here

NFL Mocks breaks down the pros and cons of Mercilus’s game this way:

Pros
Effort, effort, effort, and active hands..When he commits to rushing the passer he gets off the snap and can fairly quick get around the edge…consistently plays with good leverage…dips under tackle well…active hands..uses a spin move with some success, but needs more moves… does a good job of getting the football from the quarterback on sacks….Illinois moves him around the line as he plays both LDE and RDE…good motor…consistent production In 2011, he’s just been absolutely un-blockable for the majority of the season (tackles for loss in all game except vs South Dakota State, sacks in all game except vs Purdue through 11/18/2011)

Cons
Often looks late off the snap (hesitation or he’s slow to react when the ball is snap)…I’m not a proponent of him playing OLB and consider him a promising 43 DE, probably best suited at right defensive end…can get too wide in his rush, and especially in the run game…not instinctive, which slows down his playing speed at times…he can be run at…Needs to work on making plays down the line…Doesn’t drop back into coverage and that’s an area he’ll really have to work on if he’s going to be drafted be a 34 OLB.

The Lions would be getting a player that isn’t likely to step in and have a huge impact on day one due to his raw skill set. However, they may not view that as a huge negative considering their current situation at defensive end.

Despite being a raw player that had just one break-out season at Illinois, Mercilus is largely considered a first round prospect. Not everyone is in agreement on that. The National Football Post’s Wes Bunting ranks Mercilus as the 66th best player in this draft and notes stiff hips and a lack of a natural feel for the game as big concerns in his scouting report.

The Lions value versatility and Mercilus certainly has that as he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or defensive end in a 4-3 but I’m not sure that kind of versatility fits what the Lions want to do. We’ve seen the Lions value linebackers and defensive lineman that can play inside or outside but a hybrid DE/OLB would be a new wrinkle. Julian Peterson fit that description early in his career but the Lions used him in a more traditional 4-3 OLB role when he came to Detroit. The versatility argument ultimately doesn’t matter if it turns out the Lions view Mercilus as strictly a 4-3 defensive end and find his physical tools too tempting to ignore.

Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott was famous for choosing to have part of a finger cut off rather than being forced out of a football game. I’m not sure Mercilus would make that same choice but his toughness can’t be questioned after an incident last summer. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells the story like this:

Last summer, he noticed Illinois teammate DeJazz Woods squatting 405 pounds across the weight room. Woods crouched down and couldn’t get up. Woods had a spotter but needed more help.

Mercilus sprinted over and threw his hand into the fray. “To catch something,” he said.

And in an instant, Mercilus’ left index fingertip was severed between the barbell and the safety rack. Sliced off. There was a moment of shock, of horror, of disbelief – and then Mercilus moved on. A trainer later retrieved the fingertip. It was still stuck to the barbell.

No big deal.

“He just shook it off and said, ‘Time to get back on the field,’ ” Mercilus’ younger brother, Donald, said.

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