JPP 2.0, Blackmon comes up short and more notes from the combine
Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus can't escape the "one-year wonder" label
Too small? Justin Blackmon measured in at under 6-foot-1 and only 207 pounds
Add NFL Network analyst Brian Billick to the growing Robert Griffin III fan club
INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from day three of the 40-fest known as the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium ...
By now, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus might as well have the phrase tattooed on his torso somewhere, like a nickname or a trademark. He probably even answers to the "one-year wonder" label, as long as he recognizes the voice.
Mercilus entered his junior season in 2011 with all of two sacks to his credit for the Illini, then increased his production by eight-fold in that department, leading the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles, while finishing second with 22½ tackles for loss.
It might make him a first-round pick in April, but it also seems to be making most everyone in the league suspicious. Where was that the rest of his collegiate career? And why did he suddenly just turn on the sack switch last year?
"I can't say that I'm surprised," Mercilus said Saturday, of his monster season. "It just happened. I made it happen. I was just able to put everything together for the 2011 season and I broke out."
Without a doubt, one-year wonder isn't a term of endearment in the NFL. It carries the connotation of doubt and skepticism. But it seems to me that everyone was saying roughly the same thing two years ago about University of South Florida junior defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and we all know how that story turned out. Pierre-Paul went to the Giants 15th overall in the first round in 2010, and after a 4½-sack rookie year, he broke out himself this season with a 16½-sack showing for the Super Bowl champions.
Just because JPP hit it big doesn't mean Mercilus will do the same, but it can't hurt his cause in trying to crack the draft's first round. It has been judged a down year for defensive ends in the draft, and that might make Mercilus's raw pass-rush skills even that much more attractive to teams, even though some teams will no doubt view him as a 3-4 rush linebacker. At 6-3, 260 pounds, Mercilus probably needs to get a little bigger to play right end in the NFL, but he also needs to prove he can play in space if he's at outside linebacker.
The good news is that he's got an impressive first-step burst off the edge, a motor that runs all game, and shows some natural instinct for getting to the quarterback. Those skills will likely overcome the doubters who think Mercilus is too tight in the hips to handle the change of direction needed at linebacker. Plenty of teams in this year's draft need more pass rush, including the No. 10 Bills, No. 16 Jets, No. 18 Chargers, and No. 28 Packers. Mercilus said Saturday that he has already talked with the Chargers, Bears and Bills, and that Buffalo has shown "a lot of interest," proving that pass-rushers are never lonely at the combine.
Mercilus is well aware that the one-year wonder tag is not a compliment, and that he has to answer that question head on in his talks with NFL teams.
"I think it's a negative label, because once you have it, you have it," he said. "But 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. It's just going out there and going and getting it each and every down and each and every game. There's no fluke to it. There's no way you can just fall into a sack."
Two months out from the draft, here are the things I believe in regards to the No. 2 pick and the St. Louis Rams:
-- There's at most a 10 percent chance the Rams sit tight and take the pick at No. 2. At most. With the team's new regime fully committed to Sam Bradford at quarterback, it would be stupifying to make the pick and not use the leverage this draft has handed them in the race for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
-- In order of likelihood when it comes to potential trade partners, I think St. Louis sees it as No. 4 Cleveland in the pole position, followed by No. 6 Washington and No. 8 Miami. Obviously, the less the Rams have to drop down in the first round, the more attractive the deal will be for St. Louis.
-- If they trade with the Browns, the Rams are likely to still be able to get Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, the player they would probably target at No. 2. What's not to like about that scenario, when you also pick up Cleveland's No. 22 pick and at least one more selection in the middle rounds? Washington and Miami would have to offer their 2013 first-round picks, and the Rams might prefer to take two players in this year's opening round rather than wait for the unknown next year.
-- While the Browns, Redskins and Dolphins are the no-brainer teams to watch, don't be shocked if some team without an obvious No. 1 quarterback vacancy falls in love with RG3 and makes St. Louis a trade offer for the No. 2 slot. I don't know who that might be, but I can guess, can't I? Denver? Philadelphia? Kansas City? Imagine the possibilities of the Eagles then putting Michael Vick up for trade, or the Broncos having to make time for Griffin and Tim Tebow? That would get wild.
-- The Browns are the team that has the most to gain by landing Griffin, and that's why I'm sticking with them pulling the trigger. Cleveland has been looking for the answer at quarterback since swinging and missing on Tim Couch with the No. 1 pick in 1999, when the expansion Browns made their re-entry into the NFL.