Rutgers’ rushing defense was by far the achilles heel for the Scarlet Knights during the 2017 season. According to the NCAA official statistics, Rutgers tied with Temple for the 84th ranked spot in terms of rushing defense, allowing a total of 2,182 opponent rushing yards, with an average of 181.8 yards per game. They also gave up 21 rushing touchdowns, an average of 1.75 rushing scores per contest.
Rutgers is in need of an influx of talent and athleticism along the defensive line, especially with the Scarlet Knights losing defensive icons in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Kemoko Turay to graduation.
That is what makes defensive prospects like Florida’s Jason Mercier one of the more compelling recruits on Rutgers’ radar.
Mercier is a behemoth on the defensive line. Standing tall at 6’5, the 235-pound athlete is a force to be reckoned for any team that goes up against him and his Atlantic High School Sharks.
On his hudl.com film, Mercier’s size is already enough to make him stand out on the field, as he towers over everyone else on the field, including his own teammates. Mercier has been labeled as a weak-side defensive end but has shown to be quite versatile on the line. When he plays on the outside, he has shown a knack for getting into the backfield in a hurry, especially against the pass. As an edge rusher, Mercier is fast enough to run his way around the tackle and bully his way into the pocket for a sack or tackle for loss. His long arms allow him to grab ball carriers by the shoulder pads very easily, as he can reach over the lineman blocking him and still make a play.
When he plays on the inside of the line, Mercier’s strength and massive frame allow him to gain good control against opposing guards and centers. He can close running lanes quite effectively, and even when he is getting beat on the inside, his massive wingspan allows him to grab ball carriers and keep them from long gains.
One of Mercier’s more compelling attributes is his football IQ. Whether it is an option play, a play-action, or any other trick play, Mercier has a nose for the ball. His play-recognition ability is by far his best trait, as it not only helps Mercier in making plays, but it could help him in making adjustments for himself and his teammates pre-snap, making him a great leader for any defensive unit.
What is even better is his desire to play for Rutgers, as he has the Scarlet Knights listed in his top five college lists.
In an interview with NJ.com, Mercier said that “Rutgers is a pretty good school from what I am hearing. They have got a pretty good history from back in the days by a lot. I am pretty cool with coach Burnham, Coach Baker, Coach Boon and Coach Ash,” he told Nj.com “They are just doing a lot better this year and I see myself probably getting on the field early, maybe.”
Of course, Mercier, like any other college recruit, has room for improvement. While his size has been one of his greatest assets in the game, it is at times a weakness. As mentioned before, Mercier is bigger and stronger than everyone else on the field, with no one measuring past 6’1 or 6’2 on tape. This means that Mercier has not played against quality opponents that match up to him. We see him dominate undersized linemen and make easy plays. He is basically a grown man playing against kids, which might leave him unprepared and in for a big surprise when he faces off against actual quality Big Ten linemen.
Mercier will need to continue improving when taking his first step, which is the difference maker at the point of contact between linemen. Mercier also seems to rely more on his strength and size to get through an O-line. He prefers out running pass blockers on the edge and bull-rushing interior lineman in order to win the battle.
Mercier’s footwork will also in need of some tweaking. While he has a good motor when he engages, his feet slow down as he goes. Against Big Ten lineman, Mercier will be at their mercy if he continues, making him susceptible to pancakes and double teams.
Overall, Mercier is a raw, natural defensive talent with great athleticism, strength, and speed. But if he hopes to stand out on any college roster (not just Rutgers), he will have to develop his technical skills and add more to his arsenal. Mercier is like a raw piece of clay; filled with so much potential, only needing a good hand (coach) to mold him into something great.
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