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Khalil Mack's Evolution as a pass rusher

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Khalil Mack is a superstar in the making.

With his 5 sack day in Week 14 and another one in Week 15, he jumped to the top of the NFL with 15 sacks (1.5 ahead of Ziggy Ansah and JJ Watt).

But what is crazy to realize is that Khalil Mack is still so very raw as a pass rusher. One of the reasons Mack was a 2-star recruit and went to University at Buffalo was because he was initially a high school basketball player. If it werent for a knee injury, he may never have converted to playing football. He's only had really two years of high school and four years of college football, so it's not surprising that he's still learning some basic moves.

His array of pass rush attacks was fairly limited. He has Power with the Bull Rush or the Long Arm; he has an Inside Counter off that Power move, and he has an increasingly dangerous Spin Move to which Jared Veldheer can attest : link.

So it was quite the Eye Opener when Mack unveiled a few new moves over the past two weeks.

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Mack the Ripper

The Rip Move is also called an Arm-Under move, where the rusher creates a little space, gets his arm underneath the blocker's outside arm, and then "rips" his arm upwards to clear the block. It's often used in conjunction with dipping the inside shoulder, which gives the offensive lineman less of a target to block.

Here's Robert Quinn giving us a fantastic example :

I really want Khalil Mack to master the Dip and Rip move, partly so I can call him "Mack the Ripper", but mostly because it will serve him well to finish on his outside speed rush (which is his biggest weakness at the moment). He already threatens the speed and can execute Speed-to-Power excellently. If he can master the Rip to the outside, he's going to embarrass and dominate some AFC West linemen.

Week 15 against the Packers was the first time I've really noticed Mack trying to use a Rip Move. This was how he executed against Bryan Bulaga :

Khalil Mack does eventually clear Bulaga and get by, but it's a bit slow and Rodgers has escaped by then. Mack has a taste of success here, but it's clearly still a work in progress. It was encouraging to see Mack actually work the move.

Then against San Diego in Week 16, Mack pulled out the move a few more times (both to the inside and outside) to varying levels of success. He's starting to work with it and figure out how to use it, when to use it, and how it feels.

That's exciting.

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Mack the Swimmer

The Swim is a great technique and is a fine complement to the Rip (alternately, the Rip can be considered a complement to the Swim, depending on which you favor). Instead of Arm Under, it's an Arm Over and used in conjunction with a Club from the opposite side. Aaron Donald had a fantastic one while he was at Pitt and it's gotten better in the pros. Here's an example from 2014 : link

And here's Khalil's Swim move :

Mack came free quickly and it looks fantastic.

But if you look closely, you can see that it's still a bit raw, a bit awkward, and not very clean. He doesn't really work the arm-over move as efficiently as he'd like and his footwork is a bit muddy. As a result, he gets a bit tied up on his crossover and is just a bit off-balance in the middle of his move.

It's going to get better. A LOT better.

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Double Move Mack

So Mack's got the Bull rush and the Spin, he's working the Rip and Swim. On Sunday against Left Tackle Joe Barksdale, Mack came up with a Combination Move that was nothing short of spectacular.

He starts by showing a Bull Rush and then attacks inside with the Swim. When Barksdale jumps to protect the inside on the Swim, Mack counters again with a Rip to the outside.

Here it is :

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Khalil Mack currently leads the NFL in sacks with 15.0 and he's still just learning how to be a pass rusher and we're lucky enough to be able to watch his development on a week-to-week basis. He's putting things together, trying things out, and adding to his repertoire.

He's getting faster and stronger, and he's getting a sense for the game so that he's able to anticipate better. As good as he's been and as scary as he is for opposing offensive lines, he's still far away from his peak. Keep an eye out on Mack and his pass rush moves.