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2012 NFL Draft News: Whitney Mercilus Part Of Largest Underclassmen Group In Last 10 Years

The 2012 NFL draft will feature more underclassmen granted special eligibility by the NFL than any in the past decade of, and Illinois Fighting Illini junior DE Whitney Mercilus is now among the 65 players officially ruled eligible for the draft. The league's deadline for underclassmen to send in formal applications renouncing their remaining college eligibility under the three-year rule ended on January 15th, and now the NFL has officially granted eligibility to 65 collegiate underclassmen. The number of three-year players who have received special eligibility has generally increased since 2003, but the 2012 crop is far above the low-water mark of 40 such entrants during 2007. The complete list from the NFL is available here.

More: 2012 NFL Draft Overall Rankings

As for where Mercilus is slated to go on draft day, he is slated to come off the board at the end of the first round on most sites, and is currently ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect over at SB Nation's NFL Draft site, Mocking the Draft. Mel Kiper Jr. thinks he will excel as a stand-up pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme if he lives up to the potential he flashed in his junior season at Illinois.

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