Photo of Phillip Merling
  • 6'5" Height
  • 272LBS. Weight


A well-traveled prep standout, Phillip Merling returned home several years ago, enrolling at Clemson, where he spent the last three years being coached by his uncle, Chris Rumpf.

Rumpf was the Tigers' defensive line coach. Merling had great success playing for his uncle earlier in his football career, as both were together at Calhoun County High School, before Merling entered the collegiate ranks.

Merling developed into one of the elite rush ends in the college ranks. That made it surprising when he opted to bypass his senior year to play in the National Football League in 2008, as the staff tried valiantly to convince him that another year of college would only enhance his draft stock.

Merling began his prep career playing football for three seasons under head coach Chris Rumpf at Calhoun County High School in Saint Matthews, South Carolina. He earned Defensive MVP honors as a junior. He also excelled in basketball, receiving All-Conference, All-Region, and All-Area in hoops as a sophomore and junior. He averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds on the hardwood as a senior and averaged 15 points and 13 rebounds as a junior.

For his senior prep campaign, Merling transferred to Cordova High School in Memphis, Tennessee. The tight end/defensive end had 20 catches for 430 yards and four scores that season, adding 34 tackles and four sacks. He played in the Tennessee/Kentucky All-Star game, earning first-team All-State and All-Region accolades. He was also an All-Dixie team pick by Super Prep and an All-Atlantic Region choice by Prep Star.

To improve his academic standing, Merling enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy in 2004. He earned team MVP honors after catching 38 passes for 647 yards and five touch-downs, adding five sacks, 51 tackles, and eight pass break-ups. He was rated the 18th-best tight end in the nation according to Super Prep and No. 20 tight end by He was ranked as the No. 25 prep player in the nation by

Merling enrolled at Clemson in 2005, spurning scholarship offers from Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky and Memphis. He played behind All-American defensive end Gaines Adams, appearing in 271 plays over 12 games. He made 22 tackles (17 solo) with two sacks, four stops for losses and four quarterback pressures, earning Freshman All-American second-team honors.

Merling moved into the starting lineup at left defensive end in 2006. He generated 20 QB pressures to go along with 46 tackles (31 solo) while taking 515 snaps for a team that ranked 13th in the nation in total defense (280.77 yards per game). He got to the quarterback on three sacks and tallied 10 stops for losses while causing a fumble and deflecting four passes.

Merling earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorable mention in 2007, as he ranked tied for fifth in the league with 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He produced 78 tackles (51 solo) with 21 pressures and seven sacks while starting all 13 games. He caused two fumbles and recovered another, helping the Tigers rank ninth in the nation in total defense (306.77 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (18.69 points per game).



Positives: Well-built with thick legs and long arms, tight waist and hips, and minimal body fat...High-energy player who is best on the move, showing better ability to make plays along the edge than working inside...Flashes good explosion off the ball and has decent anchor and leverage ability to hold ground vs. isolated blockers at the point of attack...Quick off the edge and shows good hustle to the ball, utilizing his upfield burst to give him an advantage over the large, slower blockers...Extends his arms well to keep blockers off him and has the swim move lateral agility to excel coming from the backside...Shows good breakdown and body control in his tackling form, using his long arms to capture ballcarriers in space...Reads hats well and reacts to the play effectively, showing the ball awareness instincts on the move to neutralize and redirect the outside running lanes...Shows good balance in his moves down the line, demonstrating the knee bend to keep his feet on the move...Easily defeats blocks with his speed, showing the ability to dip and turn the corner in a flash...Disengages quickly from his man to move toward the ball and plays until the whistle, showing an explosive closing burst...Has that extra surge to consistently finish off his blocks, taking good angles to pressure the pocket...Still needs to improve his overall strength, but he has enough raw power to deliver pop when making contact with the quarterback and when he keeps his pads down and uses his hands, he can control the fullback and clog the rushing lanes...Has a sudden short burst to penetrate and shows the sustained speed to be effective in long pursuit...Natural pass rusher who comes off the ball with a quick twitch, body lean and leverage, but is best when operating in plays away from him, so he can redirect and give backside chase...Has the arm strength to drag down the ballcarriers and the foot speed to close on the quarterbacks and collapse the pocket...Comes off the line at the proper pad level and can burst around the corner with speed, looping through the gaps with good urgency...Has improved his hand usage during his junior year, as he played off blocks much better to work his way down the line...Gives chase with good body control...While he has the leverage to hold up, with his speed, he is much more effective on the move, where he can combine his lateral quickness and motor to keep containment on the outside...Not an explosive tackle, but will hit, wrap and secure...Has the functional leg drive to bull rush at times, but his best trait is his ability to get upfield in a hurry. Negatives: Needs to improve his hand play -- he sometimes struggles to disengage once blockers lock on -- and keep blockers off his feet...Best on the move when he sets his base, but he will turn his shoulders and get sealed off at the point of attack...Seems to recognize the ball quicker when he's on the move rather than working through a crowd inside...His lower-body frame lacks the power to take on bulky blockers with consistency, and he shows a decent anchor vs. tight ends and backs, but he can still be driven off the ball when offensive linemen go directly at him...Despite his quickness and urgency coming off the edge, he still needs to develop rush moves (club and rip are lacking, but his swim move is very effective), as he relies too much on quickness to separate...Gets caught up by double-team activity inside and must protect himself better because he doesn't have the raw power needed to split double teams...Plays with a good motor, but will get frustrated and shut down when the bigger blockers consistently neutralize him. Compares To: JUSTIN TUCK-New York Giants...Both defensive ends will make a nice living coming off the edge. They have impressive size, though Merling is best playing on the move to utilize a sudden initial step to slip past blocks. He is not a good stack-and-control type and must do a better job of protecting himself from low blocks, but he is quick to provide outside run contain and shows a quick swim-and-spin move that generally gets him into the backfield to pressure the pocket. He won't read and react in an instant, but has closing speed to seal the deal, even in long pursuit, once he locates the ball. He has to improve his lower-body strength, but there is enough athletic ability there to get by as his body continues to mature.
Grade Title
9.00-10 Once-in-lifetime player
8.00-8.99 Perennial All-Pro
7.50-7.99 Future All-Pro
7.00-7.49 Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.50-6.99 Chance to become Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.00-6.49 Should become instant starter
5.50-5.99 Chance to become NFL starter
5.20-5.49 NFL backup or special teams potential
5.01-5.19 Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster
5.00 50-50 Chance to make NFL roster
4.75-4.99 Should be in an NFL training camp
4.50-4.74 Chance to be in an NFL training camp
No Grade Likely needs time in developmental league.