Houston Texans 2013 Breakout Candidate: Whitney Mercilus
For anyone who has followed my tweets or writings for a while now, then you know I was a fan of the selection of Whitney Mercilus for the Houston Texans in the 2012 NFL Draft. It wasn’t just because I correctly guessed that he would not only be available when the team hit the clock, but that he would indeed be the pick. It was the fact that he led the nation in quarterback sacks and his fit into a Wade Phillips defense seemed just too perfect to pass up.
While his rookie season didn’t produce a ton of time on the field, when he did get to play, he was rather impressive. He showed room for improvement on some things, but he flashed enough for Texans fans to have a reason to believe that 2013 will be a breakout season for the sophomore pass rusher.
Mercilus was stuck behind Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin all of last year and heads into camp as the starter in the wake of Barwin’s departure. Sink or swim, he’s going to get every opportunity, which, as I believe, was always the plan with free agency looming for the former Texans linebacker.
In just 534 snaps of in-game action in 2012, Mercilus showed some first-round pass-rushing skills by totaling six sacks and two forced fumbles. Where he seemed to suffer was his inability to play the run though. Is that something that is fixable? Of course. But to think there won’t be any growing pains this year might be expecting a bit much.
However, with the job being his to lose, a high effort guy like Mercilus is going to record double-digit sacks in 2013 just off of raw talent. He’ll give up some big runs to his side, but things could balance out if he continues to show a knack for knocking the ball loose and forcing the turnover.
In 2012, the Texans pass rush seemed to take a step back from 2011 outside of J.J. Watt. Barwin didn’t seem like the same guy and Reed, while stout against the run, didn’t seem to get close to the opposing quarterback with any consistency. With rumors of Reed possibly sliding to the inside in 2013, Mercilus must succeed for the Texans defense to have a revival from their late struggles the final quarter of last season.
With all of the scheming that teams will employ to try and slow down Watt, this could help open up lanes to make plays by Mercilus. If there is one defensive coordinator that can maximize his pass rushing ability, it is Wade Phillips.
The concerns about his ability to play the run must be addressed, but the only way he’s ever going to improve is to get game time and experience. He’s young, but he is a first rounder and the only way the team is going to see if he is boom or bust is to give him the keys and let him drive.