The Houston Texans selected Whitney Mercilus with the 26th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.

Mercilus, a 6-foot-3, 261-pound Illinois defensive end, is an early-entry junior. He started for one season in college, but he led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (8). He also earned All-Big Ten honors and won the 2011 Ted Hendricks award.

On the free agent end of things, Houston took some losses, including career-sacks leader Mario Williams, right tackle Eric Winston and right guard Mike Brisiel. The team cut Winston. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to Philadelphia.

Houston opted for another defensive addition, even though Houston coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith both said they were eyeing the deep pool of receivers in the draft. Five-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who turns 31 in July, missed nine full games with hamstring injuries last year and the Texans never found a consistent replacement.

The Texans finished 10-6 last season and won their first AFC South title to earn the franchise’s first playoff season. With a defense ranked second last season, the Texans allowed about 91 yards fewer per game than it did in 2010.

The Texans had eight picks overall. In the second round, they’ll have No. 26 in the second No. 13 in the third.

Texans Pick Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus In NFL Draft  was originally published on

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