Defensive end Whitney Mercilus is taking a pass on his senior season at Illinois to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Mercilus led the nation with 16 sacks this season. He also broke Illinois and Big Ten records by forcing nine fumbles. His 22.5 tackles for loss in 2011 led the Big Ten and ranked second in the nation.
Mercilus earned consensus first-team All-America honors and won the Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive end.
In a statement Tuesday, Mercilus thanked former Illini coach Ron Zook, the rest of the team's staff and his teammates. He says he decided to leave Illinois after discussions with his family and "a lot of prayer."
The NFL Draft will take place April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.