Khalil Mack rates as one of the top-five prospects in this year’s NFL Draft. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has even gushed that he would take the University of Buffalo linebacker No. 1 overall.
“He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge,” Mayock said. “From my perspective, in today’s NFL, guys that have natural edge rush ability are like gold. You’ve got to get them when they are available.
“I think he’s one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles. He’s tough. He can play the run game, and unlike a lot of these guys, he can also drop in coverage. So I have yet to find a hole in his game.”
This is all new territory for Mack.
Despite standing 6-foot-3, Mack has been overlooked for much of his career.
Mack injured his patella tendon as a junior basketball player at Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla. He began playing football only after the coach, Waides Ashmon, called Mack’s father and suggested Mack might get a college scholarship if he tried linebacker.
But the only school that recruited Mack was Liberty University. The Liberty assistant recruiting Mack, Robert Wimberly, left for the University of Buffalo, and Mack followed by accepting his only offer.
“I can’t think about what-ifs,” Mack said. “I feel like I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. I feel like it was God’s will that I ended up in Buffalo. Everybody’s asking me, ‘From Florida to Buffalo? Why? Why?’ Um, it was God’s will. I feel like he placed me there, and I’m in the position I’m in now.”
When he was a freshman, Mack’s rating on the NCAA Football video game was a pedestrian 46. That’s how he came to wear the No. 46 for his career.
“I was only rated a 46 overall with a 37 rating for speed, and it was a slap in the face, man,” Mack said. “I knew deep down in my heart I was better than a 46. And, it just so happened, I was already No. 46, and I kept the number.”
Mack held the school record for forced fumbles and tackles for loss before his senior season, which is how his video rating rose to the 80s last year. It is off the charts now.
“He’s an extremely explosive athlete,” Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “Very fast. Very instinctive. He could probably play three or four different positions for you.”
Mack set an NCAA record with 75 tackles for loss during his four seasons. He also had 28.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in his career. Against Ohio State last season, he returned an interception for a touchdown and recorded nine tackles and 2.5 sacks, prompting Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer to declare that Mack could play for any school in America.
Now that he’s made his name, Mack promises not to stop and enjoy the accolades.
“I just want to keep proving myself,” Mack said. “I want to be the best. My Dad always taught me that you want to be the best at anything and everything that you do. I strive to be the best at anything I do, whether it was raking the leaves growing up, or playing tic-tac-toe with my brothers, or kicking the ball in the dirt with a can on the ground. We did stupid things, but we wanted to be the best at it, and that’s the reason I am so competitive.”
With Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr included in the group of linebackers, the position looks a lot better than it otherwise would. It is a solid group with star power at the top in Mack and Barr, both expected to be off the board in the top 15 picks. But while there is quality talent, the position doesn’t have scouts jumping up and down with excitement.
When Sean Lee is healthy, he is one of the top inside linebackers in football. But staying healthy has been the hardest part for Lee. He has missed 18 games with injuries in his four-year career, including five last season with hamstring and neck injuries. Lee, 27, has yet to make it through a 16-game season. Kyle Wilber started the year at defensive end, but he found a home at strongside linebacker. The move was necessitated by veteran linebacker Justin Durant’s hamstring injury in a Nov. 10 game against the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys want more production from the weakside spot, where Bruce Carter was a major disappointment in his third season. Carter ended up with 122 tackles and two sacks, but if he does not play better, he likely will find a permanent spot on the bench. The Cowboys will look to add depth, and perhaps competition for Carter, in this draft.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo, 6-3, 251, 4.65. He had 100 tackles, 19 for loss, with 10.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, three interceptions and five forced fumbles in 13 games last season.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA, 6-5, 255, 4.66. He switched from running back in 2012, so scouts believe he has upside after making 41.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks in past two seasons.
C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama, 6-2, 234, 4.65. He led his team in tackles the past two seasons, including 108 in 2013.
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State, 6-1, 237, 4.58. He had 317 career tackles, 45.5 for loss, with 15 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU, 6-3, 243, 4.71. He had 223 career tackles, 61.5 for loss, with 26 sacks, seven interceptions and 11 forced fumbles.
Howard Jones, OLB, Shepherd, 6-3, 235, 4.60. He had 71 tackles for loss, four blocked kicks and a school-record 34.5 sacks.
Top Texas ties
Terrance Bullitt, OLB, Texas Tech, 6-3, 226, 4.71. He could be a seventh-round pick, but his size and strength are questions.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from CBS Sportsline.
May 8-10, Radio City Music Hall, New York
TV: Round 1, 7 p.m., May 8, NFL Network, ESPN. Rounds 2-3, 5:30 p.m., May 9, NFL Network, ESPN. Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m., May 10, NFL Network, ESPN
2. St. Louis (from Washington)
7. Tampa Bay
12. NY Giants
13. St. Louis
18. NY Jets
21. Green Bay
23. Kansas City
25. San Diego
26. Cleveland (from Indianapolis)
27. New Orleans
29. New England
30. San Francisco