Whitney Mercilus tape review vs UCLA

A lot of people ask why Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois) isn’t universally ranked higher than the late first round. He was the NCAA leader for sacks in 2011 with 16 in total and this isn’t a great year for pure pass rushers. So what gives? He’s not listed among Todd McShay’s top-32 for the draft or his latest mock draft. There’s always room for productive pass rushers, which is why I’ve consistently ranked him in the 16-32 range. Yet I’m still finding Mercilus one of the toughest players to work out. What defines him? What is going to make him a force at the next level, or what will hold him back? I keep coming back to these questions and I’m still searching for the answers.

On the one hand you see a player very capable of beating a blocker around the edge. I like his competitive spirit and you’re going to get a player who will keep thinking of ways to beat an opponent. In the video above you’ll see an instance towards the end of the UCLA game where he’s taken out of five consecutive plays by the left tackle, but on the sixth he beats him with a side-step counter. He’s worked the guy out, found a weakness and forced the error. He looks like an athlete, but you expect that from a pass rusher listed at around 6-3/6-4 and 265lbs. Mercilus was clearly the most productive pass rusher in the NCAA in 2011, registering three more sacks than his nearest rival.

At the same time, far too often in this tape he’s being beaten by tight ends. If you’re going to draft a pass rusher in round one, surely he should be dominating college tight ends? It was frustrating to see examples of speed and tenacity mixed in with mediocrity as he struggled to shed a tight end protecting the blind side against Illinois’ supposed best rusher. That’s when the concern kicks in – if he can’t beat a tight end in the PAC-12, how’s he going to get on against pro-left tackle’s? Illinois mixed him around into different positions, had him standing up and with his hand in the dirt. He never looked truly comfortable apart from when he was rushing an edge 1-on-1 and he might be a bit limited in that sense.

I’ve seen better pure pass rushers not just in this class, but in other drafts too – yet none of them came close to getting 16 sacks in a single season. So what gives? Am I missing something here? Does he just have an intangible knack of getting to the quarterback – and if so will it translate to the next level? Or has he just had one tremendous season, perhaps with a bit of fortune, and now he’s going to make some money off the back of it? I’m pretty suspicious of Mercilus as a round one pick and would avoid him in that 16-32 range. Yet part of me is also thoroughly intrigued if he lasts until Seattle’s pick in round two. You’d almost have to roll the dice and take him in that range.

I don’t expect Mercilus to be an option for the Seahawks in round one with Courtney Upshaw, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram all more realistic (and predictable) alternatives. I’ll still be watching him closely at the combine and hope to see further tape in the future. It may take until April to work out just how good (or bad) he really is. See below for the tape review – the video was once again provided by JMPasq:

0:01 – 0:34 – In the first three plays highlighted in this video, Mercilus is pretty easily dealt with by a single block. At 0:34 he has to deal with a double team and again is kept quiet. He doesn’t flash violent hands or a lot of upper body power, he doesn’t tend to bull rush and he can’t punch a blocker in the chest to buy an advantage. In the first three plays he also lined up in different positions – at both left and right end, while also standing in a central position attacking the A gap.

0:46– This should’ve been a flag. He’s clearly offside and is still well blocked by the right guard.

0:52 – Takes on a tight end around the edge and although he forces the blocker backwards, he really needs to dominate that guy and make a play. The full back was behind the TE also in protection, but ended up just getting in the way and backs into the quarterback.

0:57 – Beats the left tackle for speed around the edge with absolute ease to make the sack. Initial burst off the snap is key, but quickly leans round the corner and the tackle cannot match his athleticism to recover. Good hand use on show to bat away the blocker, but would prefer to see a jolt into the pads rather than a swipe of the arms.

1:24 – Lines up in front of the right guard, but gets zero push. Stoned at the LOS.

1:34 – Standing up in a three man front but stoned by the right tackle immediately. Ineffective.

1:49 – Excellent play against the run. Knife’s through the right tackle who take a poor angle on the block and is quickly turned square to the right. Recognises the ball carrier quickly and explodes to make the play for a big loss.

2:15 – 2:28 – Well blocked on the next two plays by each tackle.

2:29 – Another impressive play against the run. Reacts quickest to the snap. Shed’s the initial block from the tight end before taking on the right tackle. His ability to beat the tight end and eliminate the edge forces the runner to check and he’s surrounded by tacklers.

2:36 – Good pursuit on the quarterback after initial block from the tight end. Perhaps could’ve disengaged from the block quicker.

3:20– This isn’t good enough for a first round defensive end. The tight end seals the edge and blocks Mercilus out of the play. The left tackle joins in for kicks, but in reality he’s taken out by a tight end. He needs be dominating guys like that.

3:29 – Again, caught up too easily with the tight end.

3:35 – Double teamed by the tight end and left tackle this time, but where’s the edge speed to punish UCLA for putting a TE on Illinois’ best pass rusher?

3:42– A third big play against the run. Illinois shift the line to favor the left, with Mercilus playing right end but lined up in front of the guard. He dodges a pretty basic block from the tight end who puts his head down and just runs past Mercilus, but he again explodes to the ball carrier for a big loss. The left tackle jumps to the second level too soon allowing Mecilus a free shot at the ball carrier. Not great blocking, not a good assignment, but sometimes you can only make the plays on offer.

4:03 – 4:16 – Well blocked on two plays by the left tackle/guard.

4:17 – Would like to give him credit for forcing the bad throw, but this pick-six is all on the quarterback. Terrible.

4:29 – Ineffective working inside.

5:01 – The most impressive play on the tape in terms of a pass rush. Mercilus drives back the left tackle with ease, dominating him at the point of attack and taking the quarterback down with a free arm. The tackle’s technique is awful and he’s all over the place, failing to get any hands on Mercilus who virtually carries him to the quarterback. But it’s the first sign of any real power to drive back a lineman and make the play.

5:48-6:25 – Better job from the tackle getting hands to the pads and keeping Mercilus out of the next five plays.

6:26– Mercilus counters with a side-step inside and a great double move shimmy to dodge the block, but he’s picked up by the guard and driven to the turf. Good evidence of Mercilus trying something after five unsuccessful rushes, thinking about a way to draw the tackle into a mistake. Equally good block from the interior lineman to protect his QB.


  1. jim J

    He’s not very consistent! Hope you look at Perry, Branch, Curry and Cox (over Devon Still)! They are some of my second round favorites.

  2. Derek

    I was reading walterfootball’s scouting report on Vontaze Burfict and this part really stood out, “NFL sources who know Burfict well from coaching him have told WalterFootball.com that he is not a bad guy; just ultracompetitive, and as a result, can be overly aggressive during games. After an ugly year trying to restrain himself, Burfict should be told to go all out. The team that drafts him should just accept enduring some penalties in exchange for having an intimidating playmaker in the middle of its defense.”

    This just screamed like a PC player to me. If his ceiling is Ray Lewis caliber, why not take him at #11 or #12? PC said we he wants to increase the speed in the front 7, not just the front 4, and this move could do that. I also like his blitz capabilities.

    I know you don’t think this locker room is ready for a player like Burfict. However, if his major issue is being ultra competitive I think he would be fine especially with players like Kam and Thomas stepping up and even Sherman. He could take the overall physicality and aggressiveness of the defense to the highest level.

    I noticed on your latest mock that Burfict fell even out of the 2nd. Is that based on skills or character concerns? Also do you think if he came out last year he is a 1st round pick?

  3. Rob

    One thing to remember Derek – Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr recruited Burfict hard at USC, to the point where he actually committed to USC. The Trojans dropped him and he ended up at Arizona State. I won’t speculate why that happened. As much as I suspect Carroll might be willing to give the guy another try considering he’s fully aware of his potential, I think it’s safe to say that probably won’t be in round one and dare I say round two. For what it’s worth, I’ve had an interview request to speak to Vontaze accepted by his agent for after the combine. The guy intrigues me, but I need to speak to him to fully understand what he’s about. I’m open to changing my opinion, you have to be when it comes to draft.

  4. Derek

    That’s some good info I didn’t know about that. Maybe if that is not too sensitive you could bring that up in the interview? If we were to get Upshaw at 11/12 and get Burfict in the second… That would be a scary defense. I was just thinking if Richardson and Upshaw are both gone at 11/12, where do we go from there.

    I know you said that PC and JS were put off by Jimmy Smith’s off the field issues last season, does Burfict have any? I am not sure if is he has gotten into trouble off the field or just put off people in the locker room. Maybe if he interviews well he can talk himself into round 1. Do you think he has the skill set to warrant a 1st round pick? And if he does interview well, where do you target him?

    I am not sure on the dates but maybe Burfict was coming into college right around the time USC had Malaluga, Cushinh, Mathews, etc. and didn’t see much option at early playing time, and if he is ultra competitive as walterfootball said, that might of put him off.

  5. cliff

    Have you looked at Cam Johnson of Virginia? As someone who could fall to our 2nd round pick he seems to have a high ceiling. What are your thoughts on him?

  6. Rob

    Derek – I don’t want to speculate about details, but I’ve heard some pretty strong off-field issues with Burfict. Like I say, I’m going to reserve judgement until I speak to the man. I actually reported the opposite on Jimmy Smith – I understand the team did keep him on their board contrary to what they said about putting him in the current locker room. I think they were just zoned in on the OL.

    Cliff – I like Johnson based on glimpses I saw in 2011. He’s someone I’m hoping to have tape on shortly and I’ll do a review. Not great production in his career, but looks to have some talent.

  7. Derek

    OK thanks for the info Rob. What do you think our top options would be if Upshaw, Richardson, and Coples are all gone by 11/12? I know you mentioned Sean Spence and do you still hold that option after watching him at the senior bowl? Or could we get someone with similar skills to Spence but in the 2nd or 3rd where the value wouldn’t be there in the 1st for Spence? I guess the same questions would go with Zach Brown too.

  8. Ben


    Since Rob won’t speculate on details about Burfict, I will.

    In addition to reportedly refusing to return to the field of play (which subsequently led to his benching for the season):

    Burfict also reportedly waited in the locker room to attack one of his own teammates:


    On top of this, he plays sloppy, undisciplined football that results in

  9. Ben

    poor defense and piles of personal fouls. This type of play isn’t one-off or sporadic, it’s consistent and troubling. Burfict refuses to play fundamentally-sound football, appears to be a locker-room cancer and appears to put himself above the needs of the team.

  10. jim J

    Derek – Even if all three are gone, we still need someone to generate a pass rush. So work down the list for your favorite pass rusher. Perry from USC is supposed to be fast and light. Ingram would still be available. Cox is an animal at DT, I really like him. That guy from LSU. Either might work out at DE or provide pressure up the middle.

    There are a bunch of second rounders that could go early. Pretty much anyone from Alabama or LSU has been tested against the best college has to offer.

    For second round DE I would really favor Branch.

  11. Derek

    Ya I see what your saying Jim, however after reading Kip’s article on this site around a week ago about our front 4 and how it is pretty set in stone and still fairly young, I don’t know if I want to reach for a second tier pass rusher at 11/12 who won’t even start. I personally think we will look at the LB spot to increase our speed and pass rush in our front 7. If we don’t resign Hawthorne and move KJ to MLB (where I heard PC really want’s to use him) we have both Will and Sam backers to upgrade. If we are able to create a pass rush from those two spots, then we have a better pass rush in our base defense while maintaining stout against the run.

  12. dave crockett


    great write up. I was putting together my own little mock or a fanpost at Field Gulls and I wondered what to do with Mercilus too.

    Here’s what I wonder about, and it’s the same basic issue with Mercilus as with Melvin Ingram. I wonder to what extent the limitations we see are primarily a function of coaching? And I’m using the term “coaching” broadly, to include prep-to-college transition, coaching stability, etc.

    I bring this up–and I’m not advocating for Ingram or Mercilus per se–because I wonder to what extent teams consider college coaching staff quality when evaluating prospects (beyond the obvious… I know a guy on staff at X school). I wonder if they think, “this kid would be a much better prospect if he played on Saban’s defense or on John Chavous’ defense at LSU.”

    With Mercilus my impression is that he’s got perfectly adequate athleticism, and a nice array of skills, but not the kind of drilling and repetition about which skills to use in which situations. That is often the difference in what you get at top programs. The question is, how much do teams consider that kind of difference from prospect-to-prospect?

  13. Doug

    He has the physical size, but I wonder if he has nfl “strenGth”? (not strenth!)
    Guys need to have an un-natural amount of strength to play in the NFL, like Upshaw has. Getting owned by average college TE’s tells me this guy isn’t very strong, and that he would probably get a severe beat-down against the real men in the league. Maybe some pro level strength conditioning program could get him up to par? I dunno…
    I don’t know for sure, just speculating…

  14. Doug

    But after watching more film, he does seem to have a “knack” to get in the right place sometimes… Tough guy to figure, but I don’t think rd.1, but could be a rd 2 steal

  15. Johnny

    Interesting write up. I feel like you are missing a few things when you are critizing him. To me it looks like he is playing the way he has been coached on certain down and distances. I noticed that on “run” downs his first job isn’tto rush the passer but play run first. Obviously on those plays he is not going to impress. The next thing is that the plays you say he is struggling against the TE, that is completely off. On everyone of those plays he is double teamed. You said something to the effect, why doesn’t he beat the TE with a speed rush? Well if you look the TE is outside of him, he is lined up between the TE and the OT. How do you speed rush a guy when you have to loop out on contain?

    Just a few observations that i think are worth factoring in here. I do think he is very raw though. Is that a good thing or bad thing though?

  16. jim J

    I just think there are better choices out there in round 1 than Mercilus. What i would look for in a DE or LB. Awareness of where the ball is and what the play will be, variety of ways to attack a blocker, high motor that lasts all game, and sure tackler. Speed would be nice – but elite speed is hard to find. Based on those criteria: Upshaw or Ingrams would be good first round choices, with Perry a close third but more situational to passing downs.

    Curry, Branch, or LB or DT of your choice in the second round. I’ve heard Branch has the best run defense of the second rounders. Mercilus might be a good choice there, but I think there are other players with higher motors are available.

    I don’t think are front four are set in stone. The DTs are set, but we need more speed at DE. Even if you thought they were set, they could be injured so you need quality backups, and two are in their 30s and won’t be around much longer. Besides, the best defensive teams rotate their defensive line to keep them fresh.

  17. Hawkfin

    I love Whitney Mercilus….. I would take him at our #12 pick. He is a beast, and by far the best pure pass rusher in this draft. He has spin moves, bull rush, and speed off the edge.
    I agree with what Johnny say’s on his post, plus you are ALSO just looking at 1 game tape. I’ve looked over many tapes myself, and this guy just stands out. There IS a reason why he has so many sacks, because he flat out beats folks. He’s got speed and can also work well in run defense.

    I like Ingram too, but he’s a hybrid LB-DE to where Whitney is going to be a pure DE.
    Not to say we don’t need a LB though. Ingram might be good if used right.

    Hate Upshaw though. Luke is a better option. I also like Hightower.

    A trade down for one of these guy’s might be best. But, I like Whitney Mercilus.
    You are SO wrong to say a TE can shut him down when it’s proven on tape that a LT tackle can’t even stop him. He pushes through double teams even.

    He’s going to be the best DE – I’m telling you now. (Way better then Coples)

  18. Rob

    We can only discuss what evidence we have, Hawkfin. In this tape he struggles badly against the TE, so it’s not wrong to suggest that.

  19. Hawkfin

    First, let me say this is a cool site and love what you do and breaking down tapes, etc.
    I also do this as well on my own. I enjoy it. I spend a good amount of time looking at multiple game films for guy’s on the radar, and this year I went really deep in the draft.

    Anyway, I think there IS more evidence that you are not admitting too, and that is by looking at more then 1 film. He explodes on other films. Yet, the whole basis is on just this 1 film.

    However, if you ONLY want to talk about this film then this is also my point on this film.
    First – my original point was that I said I agreed with what Johnny said. And by that, I mean Whitney was completely doubled teamed during this game. They had to because he was starting to tear up the tackle, plus they knew what he is capable of.
    My views on just this film:
    1:24 – Lined up in the middle – weird – But, was still doubled by 2 guy’s.
    3:20 – They doubled him with the TE/Tackle
    3:24 – Again doubled him with the TE/Tackle
    3:35 – Again it was a quick double and release. But it was enough to slow him down
    5:45 & 6 area – Again they were doubling on him

    BUT, there are plenty of shots to like and there are many more then just these:
    3:43 – owned that play, and came up and stuffed it
    4:05 – Double teamed again, yet he was pushing them BOTH back. He was the closest guy to the QB with 2 guy’s on him.
    4:18 – This was the TE on him, and he bull rushed him very quick. I would say that he did in fact cause that INT and TD..
    5:04 – OWNED him
    5:32- Owned him and was held from getting another sack
    1:03 – Owned

    He was a force in this game and they new it! Period. They were forced to double him and that was there game plan. If he requires that much attention to double him, then that is all that needs to be said.
    I could also could not find where the TE alone stopped him. Maybe I missed it. I do know the Tackle had a number that looked like a TE.

    To me, even this game, he “stood out”. That’s what I want my DE and 1st round pick to do. Stand out and force the QB to make quick throws. PRESSURE. And he supports the run well also.
    Again, this is just 1 tape – AND he’s only a JR. and is still raw. This is really his first go at it.

    P.S. – If you break it down frame by frame with any player, I think you will see some flaws. But, do you see enough good things? I do! I like this kid a lot! I think there is huge potential for growth also.
    He’s my first choice at #12. (However, we might need LB if we don’t resign Hawthorn)

  20. Hawkfin

    Trade down would be nice and still land him. Or 1 of the LB’s.

  21. Hawkfin

    One last note about his strength-speed:
    In his combine he was the 3rd fastest DE at 4.68. (Including Melvin Ingram who was slower at 4.79)
    (The fastest LB ran 4.73 according to this site I used)

    He benched 27. A good number, and that finished 7th overall. 1 behind Ingram and 1 behind the 4th guy. (27 would have finished 6th for LB’s as well)

    He’s got the speed and power in my view.

    Just remember this: 8 forced fumbles and 17 sacks in 1 year. Then look how he was doubled against UCLA, yet still made plays throughout that game.
    His motor never stops. He has array of moves if you go to other films. He can stop the run.

    He’s a Dwight Freeney, which does not come around very often.

    Ok, I’m done now. 🙂

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