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Whitney Mercilus was deemed a luxury pick when he was selected 26thoverall by the Houston Texans (View NFL Draft Grades), who already possessed two starting outside linebackers and had other significant needs at wide receiver and offensive line. But when you watch him, Mercilus’ knack for rushing the passer is undeniable. Was Mercilus really a frivolous pick as many seem to think, or is he a difference maker that the Texans defense can build upon for the future? In a league where a team can’t have an excess of pass rushers, I would contend with the latter. Here’s why.

There is no immediate pressure on Mercilus to carry the Texans defense. Because Houston already has two starting outside linebackers in Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus can take on purely a pass rushing role in sub packages, therefore enabling Houston to bring along his development slowly to ensure that his potential is maximized. Similarities can be seen in this role compared to that of Aldon Smith last year in San Fransisco, who the 49ers drafted even though Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson started every game for them last season; Smith still came away with 14 sacks. It’s probably better for Houston is Mercilus takes on this part-time role anyway; a closer look on tape reveals a weakness in run defense, where Mercilus has a tendency to get swallowed out of the play by blockers.

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Not only is Whitney Mercilus an electrifying role player who can help Houston now, but he is someone crucial to the future success of the franchise as well. Mercilus has more pass rushing upside than either of the aforementioned Reed and Barwin because of Mercilus’ physical and athletic advantages.

With the returns of quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson next year along with one of the top rushing attacks of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Houston’s offense looks to be highly proficient. The stable of pass rushers the Texans now possess suggests a game plan reminiscent of Peyton Manning’s glory days with the Colts; the offense lights up the score board, and then the pass rush subsequently closes out the game when the opponent is forced to pass. The clear commitment to the pass rush shown by the drafting of Mercilus gives Houston this real identity that they have been notorious for lacking ever since David Carr was taken with the franchise’s first ever pick. And with up-and-comers Andrew Luck and Jake Locker in the division, Houston needs to stay one step ahead. They certainly did that by taking Whitney Mercilus; maybe he was a vital need after all