Green Bay Packers: Whitney Mercilus & How He Can Help

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Whitney Mercilus #59 of the Houston Texans wait to take the field prior to a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 26, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Whitney Mercilus #59 of the Houston Texans wait to take the field prior to a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 26, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers have a very thin edge rusher room at the moment that consists of Preston Smith — who may not even play on Sunday — Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, and LaDarius Hamilton on the active roster, along with Tipa Galeai and Aaron Adeoye on the practice squad.

As a result of not having Za’Darius Smith for the time being, losing Chauncey Rivers to a season-ending injury, and not knowing how much time Preston will miss, Green Bay is in a position where they really can’t sustain another injury. They’re also having to rely on several inexperienced players to take meaningful snaps this season.

So to help remedy this and bolster their edge rusher depth, the Green Bay Packers have signed Whitney Mercilus.

Mercilus was drafted in 2012 by the Houston Texans and spent his entire career there up until this past Monday when he was released. His most productive seasons came in 2015 and 2016 when he tallied 140 pressures and 26 sacks, according to PFF($$).

"“Mercilus benefitted from having J.J. Watt on the other side of the line (or same defense) for many years,” said Aarron Van Buren of Toro Times. “Both of them were the top leaders for the Houston Texans in terms of career sacks, forced fumbles, and recoveries. So that’s definitely a big part of it.“Mercilus was technically on the roster as an outside linebacker, but he would play more of a “monster/hybrid” role with his hand in the dirt. He could of course rush the passer, leading to his 57 career sacks in ten years with the team. Being able to use 6’4″ frame to leverage defenders and other pass rush techniques is what made him a Houston favorite. I wouldn’t ask for him to drop back into coverage.”"

After only appearing in five games in 2017 due to an injury, Mercilus logged 100 pressures and 14 sacks between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Solid but not at the level he was at prior to his injury.

2020 was then a very down season production-wise as Mercilus recorded five sacks but only 20 pressures. And while grades are not the be-all-end-all, Mercilus was PFF’s lowest graded edge rusher that season.

Former OLB coach of the Texans Chris Rumph would mention last season that with Mercilus being in his 30s, it’s going to be important that he really rely on this technique to remain effective:

"“As you get older, and stuff like that you have to rely on other things,” said Rumph via Texans Wire. “He has to be perfect on my techniques. Maybe before I was able to round this thing a little bit more because I had the ability and quickness to really recover. Now, I got to almost be perfect on some of my steps and my hand placement. I got to really be sharp on my game, on my study to really know. The margin for error, you know, when you get a little older, you know how it is.”"

One personnel executive would tell Bill Huber of SI that he wasn’t sure how much Mercilus has left in the tank at this point in his career:

"“Situational pass rusher,” a high-ranking personnel executive said via text. “Not sure he has much left. In a role there, he may be OK. He was on his last leg in Houston.”"

But for Mercilus, he feels good about where he’s at and is ready contribute right away. As Aaron Rodgers told reporters, simply going from a 1-5 team to a team that’s 5-1 can do a lot for a player.

"“I feel good mentally, I feel good spiritually, I feel great,” Mercilus said via Sports Illustrated. “I can help out a team. I talked to a couple of guys around the league. They said, ‘Three sacks, it’s good production, not bad for a veteran like you.’ Hopefully, that gives me a really great opportunity.”"

Through six games in Lovie Smith’s new defense this season, Mercilus has found some success with three sacks tallied while only being on the field for 52 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps.

However, it’s important to note that those three sacks have come on only five total pressures–which, to put it simply, is just not sustainable.

Mercilus has played in a 3-4 defensive system his entire career up until 2021, but this season played in a 4-3 under Smith. And with that, there has been a bit of a learning curve for Mercilus as he told reporters this summer:

"“It’s been a little different, I’ll tell you that,” siad Mercilus via Texans Wire. “Because now it’s like my keys are shortened down to just reading tackles and tight ends and pre-snap reads, so I can’t see anything that’s post-snap or when motions happen, stuff like that, to get a beat on what might happen, things like that. It’s just reading my keys more so and locking in on that, and just letting instinct take over.”"

Fans’ expectations should be tempered; this isn’t the Mercilus of years past. But if utilized strictly in a pass-rushing role on third downs or in obvious passing situations, he will hopefully be able to find some success. It’s also not a bad thing to have an accomplished veteran to lean on either.

"“I’d still use him as a pass rusher, said Aarron. “Give him the ability to make reads and see the whole field, as that is what Mercilus himself said gave him trouble learning this new defense.”The 3-4 defense that Joe Barry runs is probably what attracted him the most, next to playing alongside Aaron Rodgers and a shot at a championship. Let’s not forget that maybe Randall Cobb had some pull in this decision as well. Let him get back into his familiar scheme.”"