Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran and Mary Paoletti will look at some of the prospects that could be targets for the Patriots. Today's player: Whitney Mercilus.
The Skinny: A 6-4, 254-pound junior from Illinois whose parents are originally from Haiti. After a pedestrian start to his college career with 26 tackles in his first two seasons, Mercilus exploded in 2011 with 57 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. He also forced nine fumbles and won the Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive lineman.
Gotta Have Him: The kind of edge playmaker the Patriots have either swung and missed on or taken for called strike three. Mercilus is malleable. His youth and the fact he's still a developing player could be seen as a liability but the Patriots could look at him as a player they can form in the fashion they want. Given the age of Andre Carter, the ceiling that Rob Ninkovich has probably already reached, and the apparent bustiness of Jermaine Cunningham, the Patriots could be in the market for an edge guy. Mercilus is most often compared to Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants, the most disruptive defender in the NFL in 2011 in my opinion. The Patriots need disruption.
Don't Need Him: The bustiness of Mercilus is pretty obvious as you have a player who did diddly for two seasons before emerging. And when we're talking "bust" we ain't talking Canton, Ohio! Additionally, it's unclear whether Mercilus has the ability to be a three-down player. While that's not a prerequisite, versatility is always a plus for the Patriots. Although Mark Anderson, who signed as a free agent with Buffalo, was a designated pass rusher and the Patriots really should do something to fill that void, Mercilus might be too big a risk.
Forecast: Pass rushers are at a premium and it will be an upset if Mercilus gets past the end of the first round. The teams interested in pass rush help include Jacksonville, the Jets and San Diego. Mercilus has been ticketed for all of them. Still, he could drop to New England which will then be faced with a choice that -- in the past -- they have passed on.
Patriots Draftability: 6