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Will Patriots draft the next Jason Pierre-Paul this year?

02.25.12 at 2:39 pm ET

INDIANAPOLIS — Before the Super Bowl, we took a look at why the Pats haven’t landed a guy like Jason Pierre-Paul in the draft. This year, they’ll have a chance.

There was once a time when college pass-rushers with only one dominant season were called “one-year wonders.” That was a red flag for NFL teams. Thanks to the last two drafts, defensive ends and outside linebackers with only one big year — take Illinois pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus, for example — don’t need to be referred to as one-year-wonders. Now, they can be called the next JPP, or the next Aldon Smith, two players who had only one good season of college production but became star pass-rushers in the NFL.

Mercilus, who measured in at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds at the scouting combine, had just one sack as a freshman. As a sophomore, he repeated the total — one sack.

Then, 2011 happened. Mercilus went from little production to 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. He declared for the draft after the big year, and though the NFL advisory committee gave him a third-round grade, he figures to be drafted anywhere from the late first round to the second round.

“I just was able to put everything together,” Mercilus said of his breakout season. “I was still learning the game as a rusher as a sophomore and redshirt freshman. Last year, I started studying myself more, seeing what I did best and just put it all together for the 2011 season. I broke out that season.”

Now, there are the aforementioned two ways of looking at Mercilus’ situation. He takes one-year wonder as an insult. The way he sees it, last year was just the first year of his dominance.

“I think it’s a negative label, because once you have it, you have it,” Mercilus said of his ability. “Once you’re able to produce like that and you put it all together, in your mind you know you’re able to repeat that success.”

Then there’s the idea that he’s the next JPP. Pierre-Paul had played only one season of FBS ball at South Florida (with only seven starts), but he showed in that season that he was a special type of player with his ability to get after the quarterback.

‘€œPeople say I’€™m raw,’€ Pierre-Paul said at the 2010 combine. ‘€œI just say I’€™m God-gifted.’€

Indeed, people did say Pierre-Paul was raw, just like they’re saying Mercilus is raw now. Mercilus isn’t quite as athletic as Pierre-Paul, who had played two years of junior college before transferring to South Florida, but he does identify with being a premier pass-rusher who’s doubted for his lack of sustained college success.

In the case of Pierre-Paul, all of that doubt ended when he was selected 15th overall by the Giants, became an All-Pro with 16.5 sacks in his second season and won the Super Bowl.

“Hey, he’s in the NFL. If I can get compared to somebody who’s on the Giants like that right now, I’m thankful for that,” Mercilus said of Pierre-Paul. “I’m just trying to upgrade my game and do things correctly, improve my pass-rush technique, be able to play the run a little bit better and just do things like that and just be a solid player overall.”

With both Pierre-Paul and Smith, the latter of whom had a standout freshman season at Missouri (11.5 sacks) but did little as a sophomore before declaring, it seemed the star pass-rushers would be out of reach given where the Pats were selecting. Given that the Pats have two first-round picks (Nos. 27 and 31) and two more in the second round, they’ll be able to get Mercilus if they want him.

This could be the year that the Patriots finally answer the question of whether they’d roll the dice with a high-risk, high-reward pass-rusher. Given the success of Pierre and Smith (14 sacks as a rookie this past year after being drafted seventh overall by the 49ers), it might be worth it.

Read More: 2012 combine, 2012 NFL Draft, Aldon Smith, Jason Pierre-Paul



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