Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (Round 1, pick 5)
Khalil Mack was one of the most productive pass rushers in not just the 2014 NFL Draft, but in NCAA history. Mack holds the NCAA record for most forced fumbles and most tackles for loss in a career. During his four year tenure at Buffalo, Mack racked up 28.5 sacks (25th in NCAA history). He also finished his collegiate career with 327 tackles and four interceptions. What is most impressive about Mack's production is that he was consistent, even when he was the focus of opponent's game plans.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Mack measured in at 6'3", 251 lbs. This is ideal size for an outside linebacker allowing Mack to play in both the 3-4 and 4-3. To compare, Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller is 6'3", 249 lbs. Mack has long arms (33 1/2") which helps him create separation from offensive lineman. Miller has an almost identical arm length (33 1/2).
But why am I making all of these comparisons between Khalil Mack and Von Miller? The answer is because Von Miller is the best outside linebacker and pass rusher in the NFL. When scouts look at the position, they should compare prospects to the best in the game.
Before the NFL Scouting Combine, it was widely agreed that Anthony Barr was more athletic than Mack. While that still might remain true, the gap has significantly closed. Mack impressed at the combine with his 40-inch vertical and 4.65 40-yard dash. Mack's 128-inch broad jump was the second best among linebackers. At his pro day in Buffalo, he wowed with a blazing 4.53 40-yard dash.
To compare, Von Miller posted a 37-inch vertical, a 4.53 40-yard dash and a 126-inch broad jump at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine.
This is where Khalil Mack will make a living in the NFL. Next to Jadeveon Clowney, Mack was the best pass rusher in the 2014 NFL Draft. His 28.5 career sacks were the 25th most in NCAA history. Turn on the film against Ohio State in which he had the best defensive performance of any player in 2013.
"He dominated Ohio State like nobody I've ever seen dominate them," said NFL.com's Mike Mayock. "He's explosive off the edge, he's tough, he's twitchy, he's got a little edge about him. His game tape against Ohio State is the single best game tape against Ohio State I'd ever seen. He plays with intensity. He's going to be an All-Pro."
Khalil Mack vs. Ohio State: nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown
Mack has a very quick first-step which he uses to blow past slower offensive lineman. When the lineman are fast enough to block him, he has the strength to throw them. Mack has great body control and stays on balance when turning the corner. He is very intelligent and looks to strip the football from quarterbacks when he can. Because of his experience, Mack has a variety of pass-rush moves (rip, dip, throw by, swim move, spin) that he utilizes to dominate the competition.
What makes Khalil Mack special is that he is so well-rounded. He is a dominant pass rusher, but is equally impressive against the run. Mack holds the NCAA record in both career tackles for a loss and career forced fumbles.
He has excellent pursuit and displays great effort on the field. Mack is a great tackler that wraps up, but also has the strength to deliver the big hit. As his records show, Mack often looks for the strip. He plays low to the ground and uses his strong lower body to create leverage and explode up into runningbacks. His tackle numbers are what you might expect from a middle linebacker, not an outside linebacker.
Khalil Mack vs. Kent State (2012): 12 tackles and 2 sacks
Most outside linebackers that rush the passer effectively are not asked to drop into coverage because they are often putting pressure on the quarterback. But what makes Mack so effective is that he can drop into coverage, and he is very good at it. He had three interceptions in 2013.
"When I watch him on tape I feel like he's pissed off at the world, and I like that," said Mike Mayock. "Then you put on a tape, I think it was Kent State, and he drops into coverage like a safety, reads the quarterback's eyes, undercuts a route, one-handed interception."
Mack can drop into zone coverage or the flats with ease. He has the speed to keep up with both wide receivers and runningbacks. Mack reads the quarterback and has quick feet when breaking on the ball.
Unlike other talented players that have had issues off the field, Mack comes with no strings attached.
Earlier this year, University at Buffalo defensive coordinator Lou Tepper received a call from the local police.
"You hear that, you start to twitch a little bit," Tepper said in an interview with Mercury News.
The call was from Dennis Gilbert to inform Tepper that Mack had approached the policeman with a small purse he had found in a snow bank. Mack wanted to know if the owner of the purse could be found. Gilbert opened the purse and found an iPhone, credit cards, cash, and jewelry. The purse was returned to the owner shortly after.
"You always hear the stories about kids who do the wrong things," Gilbert said. "Here's a good kid, doing the right thing, making the right decisions."
"Off the field, he's the nicest, most humble, sweetest kid you could ever meet in your life," said Waides Ashmon, Mack's coach at Westwood High in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "On the field, he plays mad, with a chip on his shoulder, and that's exciting to watch," Ashmon told Mercury News.
The only negative that can be found with Mack is the weak competition Buffalo faced in the MAC. But whenever Buffalo faced good competition, Mack came up big. Against Ohio State (then ranked #2 in the nation), Mack was clearly the best player on the field. Demarcus Ware (Troy) and Jason Babin (Western Michigan) are just two examples of pass rushers that have found success in the NFL.
Next to Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack was the best defensive player in the 2014 NFL Draft. He is a triple threat that is an elite pass rusher, run defender and pass defender. But unlike Clowney, he comes with no off-field concerns. Physically, Mack almost identically matches up with Von Miller. But the similarities don't stop there according to Raiders' head coach, Dennis Allen who coached Von Miller in Denver; "He understands how to rush the passer, and yeah, I see a lot of similarities between he and Von Miller," said Allen in the Raiders draft wrap-up. At worst, Mack will be a solid starter. But his ceiling his high enough where he could become a top three linebacker in the NFL.
If given the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Mike Mayock told KFAN that "I would take Mack with the first pick. You talk about a guy like Clowney, who's just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, if I had a choice between the two, I think I'm going Mack," Mayock said.