2014 NFL draft: S&BP staff take on Khalil Mack

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Unknown by the general public until draft season, the Buffalo linebacker is generating a lot of buzz — is it enough for him to creep into the top five?

A linebacker from Buffalo at No. 5? Could it really be?

Well, one year removed from Central Michigan producing the No. 1 overall pick, the fact that a Buffalo product could creep into the top five could become a reality. Lauded for his size and athleticism, Mack's play against Ohio State (one of the only quality teams he played last season) raised some eyebrows and continues to impress the scouts who go back and watch the tape.

At 6'3" and 250 pounds, Mack is perfectly built to be an outside rusher that can drop into coverage if needed. At the combine last week, Mack ran a 4.65 40-yard dash — finishing .01 seconds ahead of fellow linebacker Anthony Barr.

On paper, Mack is the type of guy Al Davis would drool over — big, fast and athletic — but will this new regime find Mack worthy of the No. 5 pick?

Jeff Spiegel (@JeffSpiegel) — Draft him

Next week all four of us are going to produce our final rankings of draft options ranked one through five, and for me, Mack is currently sitting in the No. 5 spot. Essentially, he's the final guy I'd be okay with Oakland drafting, but it also means I'm not completely sold.

Obviously, my concern with Mack is that his competition level in college was low — like Stony Brook, Massachusetts and Eastern Michigan low. If Mack hadn't had 2.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown against Ohio State, would we be talking about him? What if he performed similar to how he did against Baylor and San Diego State — games where he had 10 total tackles, zero sacks and zero interceptions?

On the flip side, NFL Network's Mike Mayock has repeatedly said on television he thinks Mack is the best defensive player in the draft — ahead of even Jadaveon Clowney. No matter what you think of Mayock's opinion, the fact that he's willing to make such an outrageous claim has to mean something. The question is just how much.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Mack fills a need for Oakland. They're in desperate need of an outside rusher to pair with Lamarr Houston and Mack appears to be a guy capable of filling that void. Would I be bummed if Oakland didn't land Mack? No, but I'd be okay if this was the direction Reggie McKenzie thought was best.

Marcus Allen Krause —Draft him

Holy crap is Khalil Mack good.

Mike Mayock has him as his No. 1 rated player in this draft and if he played for a bigger college then so would a bunch of other "experts" too. His combine numbers rival that have Jadeveon Clowney's in that he ran a little slower than Clowney with a 4.65 compared to a 4.52 40-yard dash, but beat him in the bench press 23-21 and in vertical jump 40 inches to 37.

The Raiders don't have a huge need at OLB but they do have a huge need at pass rusher and Mack absolutely fits that bill. His instincts and tenacity are great and he would immediately improve the Raiders defense.

If Clowney is gone and the Raiders want to go defense then Mack is absolutely the pick to be made, and an argument could easily be made that Khalil should be the pick even if Clowney is available. The guy was off the radar at a smaller college in Buffalo and he still is going to be a top 10 pick and he deserves it. I have trouble imagining any fans being disappointed with what Mack would bring to the Raiders.

RDreamer (@RaiderDamus) — Don't draft him

I like Khalil Mack a lot, but not enough to spend the No. 5 pick on him. If the guy left to the Raiders is, say, Blake Bortles then I think it would be wise to trade down with a team like Minnesota and take Mack prior to pick ten. Mike Mayock has gone on the record saying that if he had the number one pick, he would take Khalil Mack. That means a lot coming from a guy like Mayock, whose opinion I respect a great deal. However, as this draft includes Clowney and three blue-chip quarterbacks, a small-school linebacker isn't going to get taken that high. If the Raiders want him, it is imperative that they get value in the pick — much more than they got for D.J. Hayden last season.

Mack's game doesn't have many holes. If he has a weakness at all, it is shedding blocks at the second level. In space, Mack is fluid and is always around the ball carrier and always making plays. He is the NCAA all-time leader in forced fumbles with 16 for his career. While Mack played in the MAC against low-level competition, watch his tape against Ohio State — the Buckeyes routinely have five-star athletes at many positions but on that day, Mack was clearly the best and most dominant player on the field, capable of outplaying, outworking, and outrunning anyone on the Ohio State squad. He has been a man among boys for his entire tenure at Buffalo.

For my money, Mack may be the best overall player in the draft, due to his superior instincts, motor and intangibles combined with his natural talent and understanding of the game. He is versatile enough to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 and was used in both at Buffalo, although he was better in a 4-3 when he could play without a lineman in his face.

Mack is also excellent in coverage, with fluid hips and quick reflexes. His pick-six against Ohio State was beautiful and he outran their fastest running back to score the touchdown. As an edge rusher, he utilizes a low bull-rush move and is athletic enough to get around even the quickest offensive tackle. Against the run he is solid and is lightning-fast to get to the ball and able to tackle virtually anyone by himself, although he must improve at working through run blocks from tight ends and linemen. Overall, Mack may be the safest pick in the draft, as I feel he is virtually guaranteed not to be a bust — even if he never quite reaches his potential. If he does reach his potential, I see him becoming a DeMarcus Ware type.

Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) — Draft him

The Raiders' number one priority is pass rush. In this draft Jadeveon Clowney is at the forefront of players who can bring that pass rush to a team. Khalil Mack is next on the list.

What Clowney also has is character concerns. Those concerns surround things like his motivation -- which is never a good thing. He is still a dynamic talent but some NFL teams are scared to death of the risk he presents. They don't have the same concerns with Mack.

For those reasons, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock actually thinks Mack is a better prospect than Clowney. Mack's sparkling character aside, Mayock points to the times when Mack faced upper tier competition as proof he isn't just a product of facing inferior competition at Buffalo.

Mack is seen as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect but he also has the ability to play a 4-3 defensive end (though at 250 pounds, he is a bit small). Not only that but the Raiders do tend to drop their defensive ends into coverage at times so his versatility helps his value. Additionally, they currently have many 3-4 looks and it is still possible they switch completely a 3-4 base at some point as well. In that instance, Mack and Sio Moore could make for a pretty stout duo at the two outside linebacker spots.

If the Raiders don't take Mack, there are several teams who will be lining up to do so in the picks immediately following so this also would not simply be a pick for need situation. Mack could quite literally be the best player available when the Raiders pick at five.

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