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Making the Leap, No. 25: Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 25 on the list: Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.

Why Mercilus is on the list

The Texans selected Mercilus in the first round of the 2012 draft with the hope he eventually could replace Mario Williams as the team's dominant pass-rushing outside linebacker. Mercilus slowly was brought along during his rookie season, but he made impact plays when given the opportunity.

Mercilus made just four starts, but he finished with six sacks and two forced fumbles, displaying the speed and instincts of a player who eventually could become an annual double-digit sack artist.

Watch Mercilus show off his motor here, heading back up field to clobber then-Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick from behind to create a turnover.

Here, Mercilus shows off more good instinct, spitting on Joe Flacco's play-action fake before chasing down the Super Bowl MVP for another strip sack. Mercilus has the potential to be a game-plan wrecker.

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a reputation for making stars out of his pure pass rushers, and Mercilus is about to get his push with Connor Barwin now collecting overly fat paychecks with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Obstacles

Mercilus isn't a finished product. ProFootballFocus.com studied every snap of Mercilus' rookie year and ranked him 29th among 34 outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme.

Mercilus graded out most poorly in a Week 17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and a study of that game tape shows his failure to get in Andrew Luck's zip code on most snaps. This especially is notable when you consider how much Luck was on his back during his rookie season.

The Texans are in Super Bowl-or-bust mode, and Mercilus is facing true expectations as the starting weak-side outside linebacker. The training wheels officially have been discarded.

2013 expectations

From everything we've heard from the Texans, Mercilus will be expected to become an impact playmaker on a regular basis in 2013.

"He adds explosiveness, he adds pass rush, he adds speed to our defense and I'm excited to see him," Texans general manager Rick Smith said in February. "That jump from year one to year two as I talk about very often, has to be exponential."

Mercilus might not be the next Mario Williams, but he has all the tools to be a Pro Bowl outside linebacker, playing for a coordinator who knows how to make the most of his talents. Mercilus is playing under a high ceiling.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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