Whitney Mercilus, NFL Draft 2012: Illinois DE Is A Late-Bloomer

Whitney Mercilus has decided to come out for the NFL Draft early after leading the nation in sacks during his junior season at Illinois.

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 is now considered the 32nd best overall prospect by Mocking the Draft and the second best defensive end. Here's what they had to say about him after he declared for the draft:

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.

For more on Mercilus, be sure to check out Illinois blog Hail to the Orange. Check out SB Nation's 2012 NFL Draft coverage for more news and analysis.

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