Aside from having arguably the coolest name of any defensive player in the 2012 draft, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus could be the perfect option for the Atlanta Falcons- should he fall to the second round. There are two key reasons this is the case: Firstly the Falcons finished the 2011 season 19th in the NFL in sacks, and secondly there's no guarantee John Abraham will accept a near $8 million pay cut in order to stay. Should Abraham leave he takes a reliable 10 sacks a season with him, and Ray Edwards can't do it alone.
Mercilus is a hard player to project at the next level, and this is an odd thing to say about a DE who led the nation in sacks with 15.5 last year. The reason for this is mostly based on the tangibles, as the fine folks at Mocking the Draft point out:
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.
The biggest problem teams are likely to have with him is projecting his role at the next level. Currently weighing 265 lbs, Mercilus doesn't fill out his frame particularly well and looks very lean in pads. This will likely get him branded with the infamous 'tweener' tag that is tough for a player to escape come draft time; compared to Julius Peppers he's roughly the same height, but weighs some 22 lbs less. Personally, I see no reason why the Falcons should be scared off, should they be lucky enough to have him at their pick. At 21 years of age Whitney Mercilus could easy add the extra weight to his frame, and though he lacks those high end athletic tools you want to see from a DE he makes up for it with his motor and heart.
Physically he looks the part and has the skill to simply man handle college lineman at times. However, he's a raw kid who is stiff in the hips and doesn't have a great feel for the game when asked to find the football. He's got some upside, but his tightness and overall lack of natural feel for the game are two very big concerns that will keep him from being the type of pass rusher his freaky skill set says he could.
The question for the team drafting Whitney Mercilus will be "Is he more DeMarcus Ware, or Vernon Gholston?" both those prospects carried the same raw potential, however the former was able to harness his ability into becoming an elite 3-4 OLB, whereas Gholston has struggled thus far. The Falcons have an opportunity to roll the dice on a player like this who has first round talent, but is raw. It's likely the dividends wont be immediate, but the right move in the second round for Atlanta could be patience.