So far this offseason, Bears’ new G.M. Phil Emery has put a big emphasis on offense and special teams. Although wide receiver and offensive lineman are not out of the realm of possibility with the first-round pick, all indications point the Bears addressing defense at No. 19.
The most glaring need on defense is at the defensive end position. Lovie Smith needs another guy who has the ability to consistently get pressure on the opposing quarterback. The two DE prospects in this year’s draft best suited are USC’s Nick Perry and Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus.
Perry played at 6’ 3”, 250 lbs. last season for USC, but he came to the Combine bulked up an extra 20 lbs. He was even more explosive and stronger at his new size, running a 4.50 40 and bench pressing 225 lbs. 35 times. Perry has had a great offseason and has positioned himself as a top-20 pick.
Mercilus also had a great Combine, flashing strong athleticism and showcasing the explosiveness that made him the nation’s leader in sacks and forced fumbles. It was also reported that he had a great Pro Day, and he’s quickly rising on draft boards needing a DE or 3-4 OLB.
Bears representatives have attended both Pro Days and worked closely with both prospects. Both guys should be available when pick No. 19 comes around. So, if the Bears go with a DE at 19, who’s it going to be? Here’s the Tale of the Tape on both prospects . . .
Perry: USC ran a 4-3 Tampa-2 scheme under the originator of that scheme, Monte Kiffin. Perry’s role in the defense was nothing out of the ordinary from a 4-3 DE, which is to get to the QB (knowing the OLB has your back) and play the run. Perry also dropped back into zone at times, showing his quickness, athleticism, and ability to cover an area of the open field.
Mercilus: Illinois ran a 3-4 scheme under former Illini coach Ron Zook. Mercilus’ role in the defense was simply to pin his ears back and get after Big Ten QBs. That simple strategy help Mercilus become the nation’s leader in sacks and forced fumbles. Mercilus was versatile in the scheme, rushing from a 2-point stance when posing as a rush OLB and a 3-point stance when playing nickel DE.
Measurables and Skill-Set
Perry: At 6’ 3”, 271 lbs., Perry has a great combination of strength and speed, and he uses it quite well when trying to get to the QB. His length is a problem for opposing OTs, and he has an array of pass rush moves.
Mercilus: At 6’ 4”, 261 lbs., Mercilus displays a strong frame, a great wingspan, and quick first step/explosion off the snap. He was versatile enough to move inside in passing situations at 3-technique, but I don’t know if he would be effective in that role at the next level.
Pass Rush Ability
Perry: His wide array of moves helps his stock; most notably his bull rush—a blend of quickness and strength. He can overwhelm opposing OTs with his explosion off the snap. The flaw with him in this department is that he plays too up-right when speed rushing outside or turning inside, leading him to get stonewalled from time to time. Overall he’s a decent pass rusher who needs more refinement on his technique, specifically his pad level, to take that next step in his development.
Mercilus: In my opinion, Mercilus is hands-down the best pass rusher in this draft. He’s fully stocked with pass rush moves that he combines with raw speed, strength, and the ability to sink his hips and shoulder to get either around the corner or dip inside if the OT is overplaying the speed rush. Mercilus also can threaten with his strength on a bull rush, so he’s not just all about athleticism. Not only does he get to the QB, he also looks to force fumbles as mentioned earlier. There are no flaws to his game in this category.
Perry: Perry is a very disciplined run stopper from the DE position. He was 250 lbs. at USC, but looks big and physical when anchoring the edge. He's a sure tackler and did a great job with play recognition and shedding blocks in pursuit of the runner.
Mercilus: Very raw as a run defender, he doesn’t have a great feel for diagnosing plays and locating the football. I think a lot of Mercilus’ short comings against the run have to do with coaching. At Illinois, he was simply taught to rush the passer and rely on your LBs behind you to clean up mistakes in the run game.
Perry: Has all the potential in the world to be a special DE at the next level. The athleticism, explosion off the snap, measurables, and understanding of the game are all there, but the inconsistent production over the years at USC is big question mark. If the Bears select Nick Perry they would be getting a prospect who was well coached by Monte Kiffin with a lot of familiarity in the Tampa-2 scheme.
Mercilus: Despite his limitations against in run game, Mercilus has the most potential at the next level of the two. Pass rushers are at a premium with it being more of a passing league. And with Mercilus being the most talented pass rusher in this year’s draft, teams will not pass up on him just because he’s a poor run defender.
Ideal fit for Chicago Bears: Whitney Mercilus
Bill Walsh always had a great saying: “The first year we teach the player and fit the player to a role. The next year we will teach him the playbook, and if you have the right role with a player, he can make an impact.”
That quote came from former NFL team executive and current NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi in today’s episode of Path on the Draft. The quote applies perfectly as to why the Bears should choose Mercilus over Perry (if DE is the direction they are going in the 1st).
The re-signing of Israel Idonije gives the Bears time to develop Mercilus into a complete DE, but for his first year he should be nothing more than a situational pass rusher. Sure, Perry has best chance of being a complete DE right of the bat, but the Bears primary need on defense is another outside pass rush threat opposite of Julius Peppers.
In a division that had a 5,000 yard passer in Matthew Stafford and a QB who threw for 45 TDs in Aaron Rodgers, the Bears could use a another pass rusher to neutralize the high octane offenses of Detroit and Green Bay.