Jags Impressed With Sack Master

Regardless of what happens in free agency, the Jaguars still need an infusion of youth and talent at defensive end. Find out about this pass rusher who could fit the Jaguars in the first round.

The Jaguars have been looking for a legitimate pass rusher ever since Tony Brackens left town. Reggie Hayward was supposed to be the guy but he blew out his Achilles in his second season with the team. The team followed that by trading up in the draft to acquire Derrick Harvey, but that ninja was a friendly soul who affected more parking fences than quarterbacks.

Although many fans are hesitant to take another pass rusher early, the Jaguars basically have no other option- unless they'd like to see if the secondary could cover for six or more seconds on each play (they actually tried that in 2010 and the results were less than stellar).

A player who has caught the eye in a positive way of Jaguars defensive line coach Joe Cullen is Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus. The 6-foot-3, 260 pound defensive end had an enormous junior season at Illinois as he registered 16 sacks in a conference known for great offensive line play and not much passing.

"I was just able to put everything together," Mercilus said of his season. "I was still learning the game as a red-shirt sophomore and a red-shirt freshman."

Those who look at life through a one-quarter full glass will say Whitney's breakout 2011 campaign makes him a "one-year wonder."

"I think it's a negative label because once you have it, you have it," Mercilus explained when asked about being a "one-year wonder".

No matter how you slice it, Mercilus averaged more than one sack per game in a BCS conference. If he was only able to do that once, it still shows that he has the ability to dominate on the field.

"It's just going out there and getting it each and every down, each and every game," Mercilus explained. "There's no fluke to it- 16 is 16. There's no way you can just fall onto a sack."

Another area of his game that the Jaguars or any other team lucky enough to draft him hopes will carry over is his tendency to cause turnovers. The NFL is a turnover league and the 21-year old forced nine fumbles last season.

"I just have a knack for it," the first-team All-America defensive end said of his forced fumbles. "I just time it up right. Throughout the game I was able to watch the quarterback's movements and see him open up and then I just go in there and just knock it away as soon as I could."

Another pass rusher that Mercilus is being compared to is Super Bowl champion Jason Pierre-Paul. Both players broke out as juniors and "JPP," in his second season with the Giants earned a Pro Bowl selection.

"If I can get compared to someone who's on the Giants like that right now, I'm thankful for that," a modest Mercilus said.

Mercilus reportedly impressed many at his Pro Day and one of those he impressed was Jaguars defensive line coach Joe Cullen.

NFL.com draft guru Gil Brandt claimed that Mercilus "solidified himself as a first-round selection."

If the Jaguars do indeed find Mercilus as a player worthy of their first-round pick, the team might not want to try and trade backwards even though many mocks see him as a mid-first round guy. Mercilus cited the Bills, who pick ninth overall and the Bears and Chargers as teams showing the most interest in him. With all 32 teams attending his Pro Day, Mercilus is likely to shoot up draft boards.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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