One big position of need outside of wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars is at defensive end. Despite the fact that the Jaguars were able to bring back their leading sacker from last season in Jeremy Mincey, the team still needs another defensive end. It's possible Aaron Kampman could finally be healthy and return to the line up, but banking on a 30+ year old defensive end with two knee tears in two seasons would be a mistake.
The team also will appear to lose Matt Roth in free agency, so a defensive end will likely be high on their priority list for the NFL Draft. One player that Jaguars fans have become interested in and has been linked to the Jaguars is Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who had a break out junior season with 16 sacks, after notching up just two sacks in his previous two seasons with the Illini. Mercilus has the size and athleticism teams look for in a defensive end, but the question is how high do you draft him?
If you watch the cut up, you can see Mercilus plays predominantly at the left end position, rushing against the Sun Devils right tackle. I didn't think Mercilus really effected the passer all that much in the game, despite his two sacks and forced fumble. Right away on the cut up, Mercilus picks up his first sack of the game but it's not really due to anything that Mercilus does, aside from hustle, which is his biggest asset. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler actually runs into the sack trying to bail from the pocket as the interior collapses.
Through much of the game, Mercilus is handled by the Sun Devils right tackle. Mercilus rarely gives up on the rush even when he's stoned, which as I mentioned is one of the things teams are going to like about him. Like Melvin Ingram, Mercilus goes hard every down. He also struggles a bit against running plays, as when the tackle gets ahold of him he will get washed out of the play.
On Mercilus' second sack of the game, he's actually lined up wide at the left end position (I say left end in the video because I'm stupid) and the left tackle blocks to the inside, giving Mercilus a free lane at the quarterback. The ASU running back is tasked with trying to pick up the block and/or slow him down, but he does a piss poor job of trying to cut block him. Mercilus quickly gets past the poor attempt at a cut and drills Osweiler as he's loading up to throw, causing the fumble. It's another sack by Mercilus on the stat sheet, and while he beat the running backs block, it wasn't necessarily his pass rushing skills that got him there.
Many people have brought up Mercilus' ability to cause fumbles, and I joked on twitter that he must have a magic aura about him because it's not really anything he does specifically and is more just coincidental. Here is one play I found against Wisconsin however, where he does a nice job rushing against the right tackle collapsing the pocket and slaps the ball out of Russel Wilson's hands for the strip. This was just a simple speed rush where he beat the tackle around the edge and with his free arm goes right for the football.
Oddly enough, watching cut ups of Mercilus I found his teammate catching my eye more as pure pass rusher, No. 99 Michael Buchanan who often played the right end position. This isn't to say Mercilus is a bad pass rusher, but I don't think he's as good a pass rusher as his 16 sacks would lead you to believe.
The best asset for me with Mercilus is he doesn't give up on plays. Even when he's blocked, he continues to work and will pursue plays on the other side of the field. He's got the size most teams look for in a right end, which will likely be his NFL position, at 6'3" and 260 pounds. At the NFL Combine he clocked in at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, which isn't really a shock. He shows his quickness and speed in the games, but he just struggles to disengage at times against bigger tackles once they get their hands on him.
For me, after Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram, and Courtney Upshaw the defensive end position is kind of murky and will really fall out how teams feel guys will fit in their scheme. I can see why teams will like Mercilus, because he's relentless. He reminds me a bit of Jacksonville's own Jeremy Mincey, as he's not a great pass rusher, but he's going to work hard and that will lead to sacks. Mercilus is a guy I think would fit on the Jaguars defensive line if the team decides to trade back into the mid to late teens.