It's no secret the Bears are looking for help along the defensive line. In the team's Cover 2 scheme, pressure from the front four is crucial, as the system doesn't rely on blitzing linebackers. Julius Peppers has been outstanding the past two seasons, racking up 19.0 sacks over that time, yet the production from the opposite side has been inconsistent.
In 2010, Israel Idonije took advantage of the extra attention opposing offenses paid Peppers, racking up 8.0 sacks. Yet last year that number fell to 5.5 sacks. When you consider that defensive tackles Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye combined for 11.0 sacks, you find a player in Idonije that underperformed mightily in 2011.
DE Whitney Mercilus
Idonije is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He'll turn 32 before the start of the season. Chicago may re-sign him but it's clear they're looking for someone in the draft who could be the long-term answer at defensive end.
Mercilus could be that player. He's widely considered a first-round pick and, based on his statements yesterday, the Bears have expressed interest. It's not out of the question for Chicago to use the 19th overall pick on a pass rusher like Mercilus, who lead the nation in sacks (16.0) and forced fumbles (9), and came in second in tackles for loss (22.5) in 2011.
Let's break down his full game to see what he might bring to the team if Chicago calls his name in the first round.
-Gets off the ball quickly.
-Very active, strong hands.
-Powerful bull rush utilizes strong upper body.
-Played inside at defensive tackle as well as defensive end. Slid all over the line playing out of both a two-point and three-point stance.
-Stays low out of his stance and knows how to use leverage to his advantage.
-Can drop his shoulder and turn the corner quickly.
-High motor player who never gives up on a pass rush.
-Pure one-gap penetrator that has the potential to play the 3-technique.
-Can set the edge against the run.
-Decent speed. Can chase quarterbacks to the sideline.
-Stays skinny in the box to avoid blockers.
-Far too tough for running backs to block one-on-one.
-Has trouble disengaging once locked up with bigger offensive linemen.
-Doesn't show great awareness against the run and bites hard on play fakes.
-Limited in his pass rush. Relied mainly on strength and athleticism. Needs to add more moves if he's going to get pressure consistently at the next level. No spin move to speak of.
-Had just 2.0 sacks before his junior season last year. Some concern that he could be a one-year wonder.
-Can be overly aggressive in his pass rush, often running himself out of plays.
-Easily caught up in the wash on run plays.
-Raw player that won't be a three-down defensive end right away.
Mercilus, due to his lack of experience, is still a project, despite his production last season. He must develop his pass rush skills if he's going to beat NFL offensive tackles. As a third-down player, he could be very useful, but will likely struggle on first and second down. That said, he's loaded with potential, as he basically relied on only his athleticism last year and still led the nation in sacks.
Mercilus grades out as a borderline first-round pick. It might be a stretch for the Bears to grab him at 19th overall. He's still developing his game and won't be able to produce right away – something teams look for in a first rounder. He could be a quality player down the line but he's far too risky for Chicago, unless he drops to them in the second round.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.