NFL Draft 2012, Whitney Mercilus: Is The Illinois DE The Next Aldon Smith?

Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus had a fantastic season at Illinois in 2011, but with only one exceptional year of production to his credit, some NFL teams are a worried about spending a first round draft pick on him. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says Mercilus has trouble at the point of attack, but also calls him "one of the most gifted natural pass rushers" in the 2012 draft class. He suggests Mercilus could have an impact as sort of a pass-rushing specialist, kind of like Aldon Smith did in San Francisco last season.

"He's one of the most gifted natural pass rushers in this draft. What I would say is that even though he repped out 225, 27 times and the numbers look good on tape he can struggle at the point of attack in the run game and I think that's the biggest concern -- if you draft him today in the first round, how many snaps are you going to get out of him? Maybe it'll be similar to what Aldon Smith did with San Francisco [14 sacks as a rookie in 2011] -- he's a situational pass rusher that's disruptive and effective and he'll grow into that point-of-attack role where he'll be a three-down player."

Related: 2012 NFL Draft: DE Whitney Mercilus Draft Profile

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