Draft Analysis: Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson Tigers

by Joe Book on March 29, 2008 @ 14:12:08 PDT

 


After three seasons with the Clemson Tigers, junior defensive end Phillip Merling has declared himself eligible for the 2008 NFL Draft. A gifted athlete, Merling found himself in the shadow of a future NFL first-round pick and 2007 NFL All-Rookie Team member in defensive end Gaines Adams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) during his freshman year, and registered 22 tackles and two sacks playing sporadically. His sophomore season saw Merling join Adams in the starting lineup, and Merling responded with three sacks and 46 tackles. Merling led the Tigers with seven sacks, and registered 17 tackles for loss last season, while producing 78 tackles and earning an honorable mention for the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team from the league's coaches.

While some criticized Merling's decision to leave school early, he has emerged as one of the top defensive line options in the draft. While an injury forced Merling out of the Scouting Combine, scouts have gushed over his talent for the last two seasons. In college training sessions, he has run the 40-yard dash in the 4.7-second range, an excellent clocking for an end standing 6-foot-4 and tipping the scales 276 pounds. He is widely considered a top-5 prospect at his position, a ranking that might have been bolstered by one more year at Clemson.

Positives

Merling is an incredibly well-built athlete, who has a body that is ready for the NFL. His natural position is at end in a 4-3 scheme, but he has the ability and smarts to move around the line for an NFL team. He is quick off the end, and can wreak havoc on large offensive linemen who can't move quick enough to deter him. He does a good job of extending his long arms to keep lineman from corralling him at the line. Merling showcases strong internal moves, giving teams an option to use him as a tackle in a 4-3 though strength could be a concern. He has a good motor and the potential for phenomenal range.

When Adams went to the NFL, Merling had no transitional problem taking the reigns as the top target in the game plans of opponents. He frequently faced double teams and was able to shake defenders in pursuit of the quarterback. It is likely that he isn't done maturing as a player, and he brings very few character issues to the draft.

Negatives

While his lower body is powerful, his upper body could use to add some muscle - a point that was underscored when he managed just 17 reps at 225 pounds, which was less than half of Ohio State defensive end Vernon Ghoston's 37. Often times he relies on his speed rather than strength and was sealed by double teams that he couldn't power his way out of. While his size places him as an ideal rush candidate, he could end up lost in a scheme as a "tweener" - not big enough to play inside, and not quick enough to beat professional linemen. He needs to work on his hands, as more technical linemen can lock up his body quickly without much effort.

Merling might have benefited greatly from playing his senior season at Clemson, as he only had two seasons as a starter after playing mostly tight end during his prep career. Another year of experience on the other side of the ball could have propelled him to the top-half of the first round.

Expected Draft Placement

Merling has consistently been ranked as a top defensive prospect, but missing the Scouting Combine while recovering from hernia surgery and a poor showing on the 225-pound lift could cause his stock to slip. He is likely to be selected in the mid-to-late stages of the first round, with the Carolina Panthers at the 13th selection being a potential landing point as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 26 looking like a good fit. With defensive end Bobby McCray leaving for the New Orleans Saints, the Jaguars could use a young replacement with huge upside. Another team that could consider Merling is the Minnesota Vikings at No. 17 as they have had all kinds of health issues with their two young defensive ends and now find themselves in a spot where they need another. Whichever teams lands him, Merling is an excellent, if unpolished talent who should make his NFL team happy to have him sacking their opponents.

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About Joe Book

Joe has been with KFFL since 2007.

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