Texans Draft Notebook: What the Mercilus Pick Means for the Weekend

Categories: Sports

Whitney the Merciless: A Texan.
The Texans, as expected, addressed a need with their first-round pick Thursday night. It just wasn't the sexy playmaker position that many expected.

Whitney Mercilus, a projected linebacker at the NFL level who led the NCAA with 16 sacks in his junior year at Illinois, proved too much value for the Texans to pass up at No. 26. The vast majority of scouts pegged Mercilus among the top 20 picks, and he fills the hole left by Mario Williams.

Brooks Reed remains at outside linebacker opposite Connor Barwin, but it's still unclear whether he's best suited as a true starter or a situational player. This gives the Texans insurance.

"I'm nasty," Mercilus said on a conference call following his selection. "I get after the passer. I'm not going to give up. I give 110 percent all day, every day."

According to scouting service New Era Scouting, the strengths of Mercilus are that he is "a very strong player with some pop in his game. Initially at the point of contact, he jars blockers and has the ability to easily run around them. He is a very hard worker and good kid in the locker room."

The negatives for Mercilus include defending the run, but the importance of that is minimized at the outside spot in Wade Phillips's 3-4 scheme. It's the fourth consecutive draft the Texans have opted for defense in the first round.

"We don't go offense or defense," said Phillips. "It's whoever is the best player on our board. He's a dynamic type of player. Mercilus is a lot like Connor Barwin. He fits in with our guys on defense."

The Texans could still use another receiving target, but General Manager Rick Smith seems to believe the gap from Mercilus to another pass rusher deeper in the draft is more significant than the line between late-first round receivers like Stephen Hill and later alternatives.

Value over position in later rounds
While the first round typically combines value with need, the latter rounds on Friday and Saturday are almost all about value.

That's especially likely this year. As one would expect with a playoff roster, the Texans don't have any massive holes. But there are spots where depth is thin, especially with defections like Williams, offensive linemen Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, and tight end Joel Dreessen.

In 2011, the Texans (after trades) had two second-round picks, using them on Reed and nickel cornerback Brandon Harris. The former pick was especially astute, given the early-season injury to Williams and his eventual departure for Buffalo.

However, both picks were somewhat predictable based on glaring needs. That happens when coming off a year with one of the worst defenses in league history.

The 2012 draft, with a more complete roster, could be more volatile. Positions where depth could still be improved include offensive tackle, offensive guard, wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and possibly cornerback.

On the other hand, there's not a single one where the team would panic if they headed into camp with the depth already on the roster.

As such, the Texans are likely to have a true best player available (BPA) mind-set, which includes needs that might not even be there yet. For example, fans railed on the Houston braintrust for taking four tight ends in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, despite two legit tight ends already on the roster.

But when Dreessen became too expensive to keep and signed with Denver, Garrett Graham (2010 fourth-rounder) stepped into a very important role as TE2. Likewise, James Casey (2009 fifth-rounder) was drafted with the intent of converting to a fullback -- a role that became crucial when Vonta Leach became too pricey to retain.

So even if the need isn't there now, fans need to remember that it very well could be in a year or two.

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