It’s been tough to gauge just which direction the Chargers will be looking in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, but the picture may be gaining some clarity. Fans have been clamoring for a top notch pass rusher since the choice of Larry English in 2009 that has yet to pan out for the Bolts. Finally it seems that management agrees with the consensus of the fan base and will look to address the team’s woeful lack of quarterback pressure on the defensive side of the football.
There are plenty of options for a 3-4 team looking to land that next hybrid outside linebacker in this year’s draft class, but the Bolts may be keen on one player in particular. Most pointed to Alabama product Courtney Upshaw as the leader in the clubhouse to be the pick in San Diego should he be on the board when the team selects, but it seems a fast rising prospect may have overtaken him for that status.
Former Illinois pass rusher Whitney Mercilus has been dubbed by many scouts coming into this pre-draft process as a one-year wonder, but the Illini defender is doing his best to shake that label. Mercilus tallied 16 sacks last season which is quite an impressive number at any level let alone in college with five less regular season games than the pro level. As he explained to NBC Sports: “There’s no fluke to it, 16 is 16. There’s no way you can just fall onto a sack.”
With the statistics to prove that he is a top level prospect, Mercilus decided to forgo his senior season with Illinois and enter the NFL Draft. That decision is proving to be a wise move especially after the numbers that he posted at the NFL Scouting Combine.
An unofficial 4.63 time in the 40-yard dash was later amended to an official 4.68 time, but is still quite impressive. What should wow scouts even more is his split time which is what really makes the difference when lining up at the line of scrimmage needing short bursts to make an impact. His 10-yard split time of just 1.57 seconds showed true explosion while his 32-inch vertical leap and 118-inch broad jump further illustrated that athleticism.
When reporters asked about his athletic ability, Mercilus said: “I come off the line — I have a good first step. I’m able to come off the line pretty quickly. Definitely I’m able to wear out players, too. I have a never-ending motor, and I’m able to keep going until the fourth quarter until somebody is dog tired and just take advantage of them.”
Clearly this young man has all of the physical tools to be successful at the next level and the Chargers could be the team to give him that opportunity. Many scouts can’t help but compare Mercilus’ tale to that of the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul. Mercilus is the son of Haitian immigrants still learning the game of football and quite raw in many respects, but his ability to get to the quarterback shares some obvious similarities to Pierre-Paul.
When asked about his progression as a player, he said: “I just was able to put everything together. I was still learning the game as a redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman. Just last year, studying myself more and seeing what I do best, I just put it all together for last season, and I broke out last season. It was just due to hard work. That's all I have to credit it to. It just didn't happen. I made it happen. I was still learning the game. I was young. I was a raw talent. I would show flashes in games at times and I was finally able to just put it all together.”
For a young player to understand both his strengths and weaknesses at this stage of his career says a great deal about Mercilus’ maturity level as well. That is a trait which probably comes from his upbringing as he detailed saying: “My parents are Haitian immigrants. I can't give you a dateline on when they came here or anything like that. They worked for everything. They broke their backs for a number of years just to put food on the table for me and my brother and my sister and they instilled those values in us to just work hard and never give up on anything in life. Just keep pushing forward and you can do great things. And it definitely happened.”
Work ethic is a question of character and it is quite apparent that Mercilus has the desire to make the most of any opportunity he is given. Landing a player with this kind of desire and athletic skill set would be a tremendous move for the Bolts as they attempt to restore the fear factor in their defense for 2012.
Now it’s your turn! Do you expect the Chargers to focus on pass rush in the first round or will they be more inclined to address other needs early on? Is Mercilus’ one-year wonder success story at Illinois something to be concerned about or something to get fans excited? Does the athleticism that Mercilus has shown at Combine translate to success in the NFL in your opinion or not? Do you believe there are striking similarities between Mercilus and Pierre-Paul or are the circumstances merely coincidental? Should Mercilus be at the top of the Bolts wish-list heading into the draft or do you see them going in another direction? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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