Have the Packers Fingered Their No. 1?

In the fifth of our draft exclusives, we tell you about the third potential first-round pick the Packers held a formal interview with at the Scouting Combine.

Whitney Mercilus had one forced fumble for each of his fingers — nine — and 16 sacks during a jaw-dropping 13-game junior season at Illinois.

Take away Clay Matthews' production, the Green Bay Packers' entire defense recorded 23 sacks and nine forced fumbles in 16 games.

The Packers have a massive need at outside linebacker and Mercilus potentially could fill it, which is why Green Bay had a formal interview with him at the Scouting Combine last week, Packer Report has learned.

Mercilus was a one-year wonder in every sense of the term. After redshirting in 2008, Mercilus had one sack in 2009 and one sack in 2010.

"I think it's a negative label (being called a one-year wonder) because once you have it, you have it," he said. "Once you're able to produce like that and you put it all together, in your mind, you know you're able to repeat that success."

Mercilus' 2011 season started with a crushing thud. About a week before the spring game, Mercilus was in the weight room with some teammates when one of them was struggling to squat 405 pounds. When he stepped in to help the spotter, Mercilus made the mistake of trying to raise the weight by the plates rather than the bar. The plates wound up crushing the tip of his left index finger.

"The finger was just sitting there. It was completely crushed," Mercilus said after his podium session

Whitney Mercilus
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
He lost the top three-quarters of an inch of the finger. The injury kept him out of the spring game but it didn't slow him a bit once the season started. After posting two sacks against Arizona in the third game of the season, Mercilus had at least one sack in 10 of the final 11 games.

"I just was able to put everything together," Mercilus said. "I was still learning the game as a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt freshman. Just last year, studying myself more, seeing what I do best and just put it all together for the 2011 season. I broke out that season."

Not only did Mercilus lead the nation in sacks, but he tied an NCAA record and broke the Big Ten standard in forced fumbles.

"I just have a knack for it. I just time it up right," Mercilus said of stripping the football. "Throughout the game, I was able to watch the quarterback's movements and just see him open up and then I just go in there and just knock it away as soon as I could."

Mercilus chalked up his big season to understanding the Illini's defense and through a work ethic derived from his parents. Wilner and Yvrose were Haitian immigrants, with Wilner driving a taxi while taking full-time computer courses upon arriving in the United States in 1985. Wilner regularly called the school to make sure Whitney's grades were in order.

"They broke their backs throughout the years just to put food on the table for me, my brother and my sister," he said. "They just instilled those values in us and just to work hard, never give up at anything in life and just keep pushing forward and go for great things. It definitely happened."

Before deciding to skip his season, he sought guidance from the NFL's draft advisory committee, which gave him a third-round grade.

There's no way Mercilus is going in the third round. The Packers, who pick 28th, probably will have to be willing to move up to get him, though they'll have ample ammunition to get the guy they want — just like they did with Matthews in 2009.

"No, I don't think that. I'm just out here to work and show them that I deserve to be, to earn the right to be in the first round."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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