He knows he didn’t live up to the hype of being a five-star recruit at Texas A&M, but now he’s focused on re-establishing himself as an elite talent for the upcoming NFL Draft.
He took the first step by playing well enough at the East-West Shrine Game to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl last month, and now he’s focused on turning heads at the NFL Combine later this month.
“Maybe a lot of people probably have forgotten I was a really good football player,” Mack said at the Senior Bowl last month. “I’m just reminding people, ‘Hey, I was one of the top guys coming out of high school for a reason.’ These [all-star] games are big. I know a lot of people had a lot of questions about my game and I feel like I answered a lot of those.
“I feel like I’ll continue to answer those questions.”
The biggest question NFL executives and scouts ask Mack are about his college career. He went to A&M as one of the top prospects in the 2015 recruiting class, and had a solid freshman season with 9 1/2 tackles for loss.
Mack thought he’d be in college just three years and bolt to the NFL. But he had disappointing sophomore and junior seasons before putting together a solid 2018 senior campaign in which he posted career highs in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (5 1/2).
Mack has been straightforward with NFL teams about his journey -- he battled depression and had to adjust to a scheme change midway through his career.
“Off the field, my parents got a divorce my freshman year of college,” Mack said. “At the time, I was making plays as a freshman. It really didn’t affect me much. Then, when I got home, I saw how things were different.
“That, mixed in with the scheme change, 2016-17 was just a hard time for me. It was the first time I was an unsuccessful football player. I really didn’t know how to handle it. But I finally ended up talking to people about it and thank God for Coach [Jimbo] Fisher, Coach [Mike] Elko and Coach [Elijah] Robinson.
“They came in before last season and gave me a different mentality and changed my life.”
Mack responded with his best season yet and is now trying to work his way onto team’s radars for the upcoming draft.
Mack visited with multiple teams at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, including the Dallas Cowboys. Every team, you’d think, could use a player with an explosive first step such as Mack to plug in the middle of the D-line.
Dane Brugler, NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic, projects Mack as a third- or fourth-round talent at this point in the process.
“Mack’s initial surge and low leverage allow him to play underneath blocks, driving blockers backward with his initial momentum,” Brugler said. “He needs to continue and develop his handwork and might not meet some of the size requirements teams have for a nose, but he can stack blocks with insistent power and clog run lanes as an early-down player. He reminds me of Javon Hargrave [of the Pittsburgh Steelers].”
Mack is a big reason why Texas A&M had the nation’s third-best rushing defense last season. Mack checked in at the Senior Bowl at 6-foot-1, 327 pounds and projects as a nose tackle at the next level.
He could boost his draft stock significantly with a solid showing at the NFL Combine later this month.
Mack believes he’s one of the strongest players in the draft class, going as far as saying he’d like to become one of just a handful of prospects to rep the 225-pound bench press at least 40 times.
“I feel I can hit 40. The first day we tested, two days after the bowl game, I did 32 reps,” Mack said. “That was right after the bowl game and I hadn’t trained or lifted weights since December. My max is 450 pounds, but I’m with my stamina at 225.”
That may help offset what Mack believes will be his biggest knock as far as testing is concerned -- his arm length. He has relatively short arms for defensive tackles at 32 inches, although he brushed off the notion that short arms affects his ability on the field.
“I don’t know how you can judge a guy saying he didn’t make a play because his arms aren’t long,” Mack said. “I’ve never heard anyone say that, so I don’t know how that factors in, how many more plays you’ll make if your arms are long.”
Instead, Mack is focused on what he can control such as the bench press and his 40-yard dash time. He is training for the Combine and his pro day at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney.
Outside of the bench press goal, he’d like to run at least a 4.9-second 40-yard dash. He’d like NFL teams to know he’s one of the strongest and fastest D-lineman in this year’s class.
“I want to run at least a 4.9 [second 40-yard dash] so I can say I’m the strongest guy and one of the fastest guys,” Mack said. “That, mixed in with a good senior season and good all-star games, it looks pretty good.”
It’s the type of prospect most believed Mack would be when he signed as a five-star recruit out of Gladewater, Texas in 2015.
He was one of three five-star recruits in A&M’s class that year, along with wide receiver Christian Kirk, a second-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft, and quarterback Kyler Murray, who transferred to Oklahoma and is now the reigning Heisman winner and possible first-round NFL pick after being a first-round MLB Draft pick.
For Mack, though, it’s about his journey and his story of overcoming adversity to reach the next level. He’s gone from having the spotlight of being a five-star recruit to being almost an afterthought in the NFL Draft.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m real underrated,” Mack said. “But it is what it is. I feel like it’s a what have you done for me lately world. Lately I’ve been playing really good football and I’m going to continue to do so. Hopefully one of these teams takes a chance on me … early.”