With the 26th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft the Houston Texans select Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB from the University of Illinois. I wonder if I was the only one surprised by this pick? Most likely not with all the hype surrounding the Texans need and desire for another big play wide receiver to compliment Andre Johnson. Or their need to add depth to an offensive line with the loss of Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston to Free Agency.
However when you consider the draft history of the Texans, Mercilus makes perfect sense and should not be a surprise at all. Considering the off season loss of previous first round pick Mario Williams to the Buffalo Bills, the Texans certainly did not hurt themselves adding depth to his position. While Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed had excellent seasons and will only get better, in Wade Phillips 3-4 defense you can never be deep enough at the defensive end/outside linebacker position.
It seems Mercilus may be the steal of the night. Even though the Illinois only finished 7-6 on the year and were not a good Big Ten team, Mercilus stood out. In his only year as a starter he led the NCAA with 16 sacks and recorded 9 forced fumbles. He was voted a unanimous 1st Team All-American and won the Hendricks award for the top defensive end in the nation. He certainly made the most of his only full year starting. Phillips was very impressed with Mercilus and the Texans actually discussed trading up to get him. He had this to say after the pick;
“They say one-year wonder, but you wonder why they didn’t play him the year before is what I wonder,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He’s a natural pass rusher. He’s got the skills that you look for in pass rushers. He’s a little different than Brooks Reed was last year. He more used to using his hands, and he’s got a speed rush, he’s got a power rush and he’s got a quick inside move.”
Mercilus’ value cannot be understated. This was a good first round selection for the Texans. It will be even better if they are able to successfully address their needs at offensive line and wide receiver throughout the remainder of the draft. If GM Rick Smith‘s past success is any indication, the Texans are in good shape.