By Julian Reed
The 2014 NFL Draft is a showcase of philosophy and ideology. Arguably one of the deepest drafts in over a decade, many prospects seek to make an immediate impact at the NFL level.
Test subject A, Khalil Mack, outside linebacker/defensive end from the University of Buffalo. Prototype 3-4 linebacker/pass rusher at 6’3, 252 lbs. Sadly for NFL teams with later round 1 picks, this kid is no secret diamond in the rough. The word is out, Mack is ready to enter the NFL and dominate right now.
The NFL is a passing league. Teams have a huge vested interest to ensure their rosters are sufficiently stocked with elite talent to rush opposing passers. Whether it’s Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, RGIII, or Aaron Rodgers, the only way to slow them down is with a pass rush. The reality of that increases the value of pass rushers.
I studied four games on Mack. Buffalo Bulls versus Ohio State, Toledo, Bowling Green and San Diego State. Mack in almost every one of those games jumped off the screen instantly. In the bowl game against San Diego State, opposing offense ran a running play to the right side (Mack lined up on the left side) on the first play of the game. Mack dominated the left tackle and used outside leverage to push the linemen across the field into the running back to make a tackle. That play epitomizes Khalil Mack. A force, a ball of uncontainable kinetic energy. At the outset of every game on Mack I studied, evident this kid was the real deal.
Easiest barometer to gague ability, respect (or lack there of) granted by opposition. In every piece of film on Mack I studied, it persisted throughout. Every play from the opening snap to garbage time late in the 4th quarter down double digits, he was met with the highest degree of respect in the form of double teams, triple teams, halfback chips, quick throws, etc. He (Mack) was clearly the focal point of the gameplan for every opponent the Buffalo Bulls faced over his tenure there. Particularly in the game against San Diego State, I was thoroughly impressed with his effort. In a game the Bulls lost by 25 and were mostly out of, Mack’s effort level never faltered. SDSU schematically did as good a job as any I saw on tape to counter mack and he still made a major impact, finishing the game with 6 tackles, 1 pass deflected and a fumble recovery.
Mack’s best game last season was in Buffalo’s opening game at Ohio State where he dominated the best competition he’d face all season. Mack finished with 9 total tackles, and 2.5 sacks in a breakout performance.
Despite having an excellent career at the University of Buffalo, Mack still has some major holes in his game. Like many a great college pass rusher, relies too much on brute strength to overpower his matchup. Often can be very sloppy in his technique as a result. Hand movements off the line of scrimmage need improvement.
Common tendency I noticed often with him on tape, goes wide off the line of scrimmage often which worked against the pass but killed the Bulls against the run. Mack would go wide, opposition would run the ball inside and it ended with 15-20 yard runs almost every time. At the next level he needs to be able to have a more balanced approach off the line to be effective. In the game against Bowling Green, I didn’t like how he started that game. Very slow early on, got noticeably frustrated with the double teams. Took him about a quarter and a half to really get going. But, he turned it around which is what I wanted to see. How he would handle adversity. Handled it well.
The good with Mack is ripe. Has the ideal size to be a true 4-3 linebacker or down linemen as well as a 3-4 rush end. As a pass rusher, his game is quite refined. Excellent footwork. Has a plethora of moves he can utilize to get to NFL quarterbacks.
Another major positive working in his favor is that he has no background of issues in college, hard working, great effort and attitude on the field, allegedly comes from a good family, etc. All arrows point up for this kid. Other major positive, dominated elite competition. Some would argue the validity of his college career because of the conference he plays in. Performance against Ohio State alleviated at least some of that concern.
What I liked about Mack on tape, stood out immediately. If I’d entered those games not knowing who he was, would’ve still jumped off the screen. Has the star power and ability to be highly impactful in the NFL. Despite a few small areas of weakness in his game, I see no red flags and by all accounts he’s a great kid. Very much in play with a decent chance to be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft and should at minimum be a top 8 to 10 pick.