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2012 NFL Draft: Whitney Mercilus A Fringe First Round Pick In Eyes Of Some

Whitney Mercilus, junior defensive end for the Illinois Fighting Illini, has officially announced that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft, but he presents some problems when it comes to scouting his NFL potential. After recording only two sacks in his first two seasons with the Illini, Mercilus jumped off the page in 2011. The redshirt junior DE led the Illini and the nation with 16 sacks and 9 forced fumbles on his way to multiple awards, including First-Team All-American honors (AP, FWAA, Walter Camp, AFCA,,, Phil Steele,,, the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year award, the Bill Willis Defensive Lineman of the Year Award, All Big Ten honors from the AP and Coaches, a Bronko Nagurski Trophy Finalist
, a Bednarik Award and Rotary Lombardi Award Semifinalist, and SB Nation's 2011 Football All-America team.

The contrast between his most recent season and the bulk of his career has left some wondering whether Mercilus will excel in the NFL. SB Nation's NFL Draft site, Mocking the Draft lists him as the No. 32 prspect overall and the second best defensive end:

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.

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.