Whitney Mercilus revival key for Texans' AFC South pursuit
The Texans hoped they had acquired a stud pass rusher when they drafted Whitney Mercilus with the 26th pick of the first round in 2012. However, their hope failed to materialize in the short-term, as Mercilus struggled in his first three years in the league—between 2012 and 2015, he recorded a -14.1 pass rushing grade. Even run defense was an issue, with Mercilus grading negatively in each of his first two seasons before having a good season in that regard last year. The investment made in Jadeveon Clowney suggested the writing was on the wall for Mercilus, who is coming to the end of his rookie contract. However, an injury to the former first-overall pick gave Mercilus an opportunity—which he seized on Monday night.
In his previous three years in the league, Mercilus consistently ranked near the bottom of the NFL in terms of pass rush productivity (PRP). He’s improved dramatically this year, recording five sacks, three hits and 17 hurries in 202 snaps for a PRP of 9.9, which leaves him inside the top 15. In comparison, Clowney has just a sack, two hits, and 12 hurries in 134 snaps for a pass rush productivity of 8.6. Crucially, in the two games Clowney has missed, he has four sacks, a hit, and nine hurries. Mercilus’ improvement was evident last night going against All-Pro LT Andrew Whitworth. He recorded a pair of hurries, forcing Whitworth to concede only his seventh and eighth combined pressures of the year.
Overall, Mercilus is now ranked 10th overall amongst 3-4 outside linebackers. Not only does he have a PRP in the top 15, but he also has the fourth-best run stop percentage at the position, having made 14 stops in just 155 snaps. The Texans needed an edge rusher to compliment the disruption from J.J. Watt on the interior. As good as Clowney has been against the run, he’s yet to show the pass rushing skills you’d like to see from a first-overall pick. If Mercilus can sustain his current form, he can be the edge rusher the Texans have craved, and that defense will give them a great chance to make the playoffs.