Big Ten rankings: No. 4, Whitney Mercilus

Most of you have figured out the top four names in the Top 25 postseason player countdown, but the suspense is still building. As a reminder, we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact, and not on other factors like NFL potential.

Now it's time to recognize a defensive linemen who showed no mercy, or merci, at ...

No. 4: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois, Jr., 6-foot-4, 265

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Started all 13 games at defensive end and recorded 57 tackles, including 22.5 for loss and 16 sacks. Added nine forced fumbles, six quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

Why he's here: For the second consecutive year the Big Ten watched a defensive end build on a decent season and take his game to nationally elite levels. Mercilus was the 2011 version of J.J. Watt, who went from solid pass rusher as a sophomore to a first-team All-American as a junior. The Illini standout led the nation in sacks, 2.5 more than any other FBS player, and ranked second in tackles for loss. His forced fumbles total set a Big Ten record and ranked second in NCAA history.

Mercilus recorded tackles for loss in 12 of 13 games, recorded sacks in 11 games and recorded multiple tackles for loss in eight contests. He forced two fumbles in a monster effort at Indiana and had forced fumbles in seven other contests.

While five Big Ten players earned consensus first-team All-America honors, Mercilus was the league's only unanimous selection. He won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media. No Big Ten defender made more game-changing plays than Mercilus, who triggered an Illinois defense that ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed. He opted to forgo his senior senior and enter the NFL draft.


No. 5: David Molk, C, Michigan

No. 6: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

No. 8: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa

No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State

No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska

No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

No. 13: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa

No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State

No. 15: John Simon, DL, Ohio State

No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

No. 17: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

No. 18: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois

No. 19: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State

No. 20: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

No. 21: Marcus Coker, RB, Iowa

No. 22: Silas Redd, RB, Penn State

No. 23: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

No. 24: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin

No. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan