The Texans added more firepower to their second-ranked defense on Thursday, selecting Illinois outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus with the 26th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Mercilus (6-4, 261) led the NCAA with 16 sacks and tied an NCAA record with nine forced fumbles in 2011. He should form a three-man rotation at outside linebacker with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.
"I'm nasty," Mercilus said. "I get after the passer. I'm not going to give up. I give 110 percent all day, every day. I won't ever give up. I'm willing to learn and earn my rank among the Houston defense and plan on trying to contribute right away."
Mercilus, 21, started only one season at Illinois and left as an early-out junior, prompting pre-draft criticism that he could be a one-year wonder.
"They say one-year wonder, but you wonder why they didn't play him the year before is what I wonder," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "He's a natural pass rusher. He's got the skills that you look for in pass rushers. He's a little different than Brooks Reed was last year. He more used to using his hands, and he's got a speed rush, he's got a power rush and he's got a quick inside move."
Phillips said the Texans considered trading up for Mercilus because they thought he was that valuable. The Texans were also looking for offensive line and wide receiver help entering the draft, but they thought Mercilus was too good to pass up.
"He's like the guys we have, and that's why we really liked him," Phillips said. "He's a smart player. He's athletic. He's tough, physical, but he's a self-starter, high-motor guy that plays with ability. You want those high-motor guys, but you want them to have that kind of ability. He's one of the top pass rushers in the draft. It's a great opportunity to get a guy like that at that point in the draft.
Mercilus, who lost part of his left index finger in a weightlifting accident at Illinois in 2011, had a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, had 27 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, a 32.0-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump.
The newest Texans linebacker watched the draft with family and friends in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
"It feels great," Mercilus said. "I can't even explain the excitement that is going through my body right now and through my mind and just how excited I am to be able to start working right away for the Houston Texans – start putting that work in."