Whitney Mercilus is still just a fringe first-round pick in the NFL Draft. But that's a pretty impressive place for him to be after heading into his junior year with just two sacks on his resume. The defensive end broke out in Year 3, registering a nation-leading 16 sacks, making 22.5 tackles for a loss and forcing nine fumbles, the second most in NCAA history.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end was impressively consistent, too. He had at least one sack in all but two of Illinois' games, and one of those was a 56-3 win over South Dakota State.
Mercilus' game is based largely on his effort. He does't have a great first step or overall athleticism. But he's a non-stop player who finds a way to shed blocks. Mercilus also plays with great leverage and technique. Because he's 6-foot-5, he has long arms, and he's good at punching the offensive lineman back.
Mercilus has been called a poor man's Aldon Smith, the San Francisco 49ers similarly sized rookie who had 14 sacks during his first NFL season.