Most, if not all signs, point to the Bears taking a defensive player with the 19th pick of the first round in the NFL draft next week. Among players who are likely to be available and worthy of the 19th overall pick, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is considered a good fit for Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense. But Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in sacks (16) and had nine forced fumbles in 2011, might be the most intriguing.
Defensive ends are hit-and-miss at almost any stage of the draft. The last three top-five picks were LSU's Tyson Jackson (No. 3 to the Chiefs in 2009), Virginia's Chris Long (No. 2 to the Rams in 2008) and Clemson's Gaines Adams (No. 4 to the Buccaneers in 2007). At No. 19 it's particularly dicey.
But NFL network draft analyst Mike Mayock indicated the late-blooming Mercilus might be worth the risk for the Bears. The scouting report on Mercilus is enticing. But so were the scouting reports on Tyson Jackson -- and he went third overall.
What to make of it? I asked Mayock if there was anything about Mercilus that makes him any more or less of a risk than previous defensive ends drafted in the second half of the first round. Here's what he said:
''On the positive side, there's production, albeit one year of production, which scares some teams -- 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles -- crazy numbers for one year, which begs the question, 'Where were you before then?'
''However, when you look at what he is on tape, he's a natural pass rusher. He's a natural edge rusher. He's got excellent take-off. He understands how to work up the field. Does he need to learn technique and more pass-rush moves? Yes, because right now like a lot of gifted college kids, he depends on his speed to win.
''He's one of the most gifted natural pass rushers in this draft. What I would say is that even though he repped out 225, 27 times and the numbers look good on tape he can struggle at the point of attack in the run game and I think that's the biggest concern -- if you draft him today in the first round, how many snaps are you going to get out of him? Maybe it'll be similar to what Aldon Smith did with San Francisco [14 sacks as a rookie in 2011] -- he's a situational pass rusher that's disruptive and effective and he'll grow into that point-of-attack role where he'll be a three-down player.
''But I think that's only real downside, is can he be stout enough at the point of attack down the road to justify being a first-round pick?''