The MAC had the first pick of the NFL Draft last season in Eric Fisher from Central Michigan and there is an excellent chance they will have another first round pick that could go extremely high this year in Buffalo’s extraordinary outside linebacker Khalil Mack. What was largely a secret reserved for the MAC last year made a huge statement against Ohio State to the entire country. Mack made it painfully clear that he was not just a dominant player against non-AQ schools as he was the best player on the field when the Bulls visited Columbus. Mack has been tremendous but also had some luck that have timed out to make him have what has been as dominant a season as anyone in college football and put up unbelievable numbers for the Bulls in his final season.
Mack has shown that he is a tremendous athlete with power and speed, but he is also working on becoming a complete player that has great instincts and feel for the game. He has demonstrated the fact that can be an effective player as a pass rusher, run defender, and is effective in coverage. Mack has experience as an outside linebacker, playing with his hand on the ground and has the ability to play inside if he wanted. He still needs to improve taking on and shedding blocks and his hips can be stiff at times, but outside of that, he is an absolute terror who looks ready to be unleashed on the NFL and warrants a first round pick and is in the conversation for the first standup rusher in this draft. It would hardly be shocking if there are questions about if Mack is maxed out as a player going to the NFL. It is possible, but he also looks like he could step in and be an impact player the second he steps onto an NFL practice field.
Vitals & Build
Mack is listed at 6’3” 248lbs and has an incredibly strong build. In addition to power, Mack has good feet, great body control, and remarkable agility and acceleration. The one area that can hurt Mack is that his hips can be stiff so dramatic changes of directions can be problematic for him. He also displays remarkable lateral explosion. Mack has a great motor and is relentless when he feels like he can make a play. There will be a small question in regards to how legitimate Mack’s height and weight are as well as his arm length, but he looks NFL ready already. Anything he adds at this point is a bonus, but it could only help him be that much better of a player going forward.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Mack’s snap anticipation can be inconsistent. He is never really late, but he is either on it or a fraction of a beat late. Mack does a good job of having his force go forward and usually starts from a creep-like stance that allows him to come out fast and low to the ground. The issue for Mack is that he does not always fire out with full effort and at times, he will come out slow and read the play before making a decision for he wants to attack. This is not ideal as he would be better served to attack the offensive lineman, put them at a disadvantage as he reads the play and then reacts, but that can be easier said than done. Mack is incredibly explosive when he wants to be.
He is not as comfortable working from a three point stance. His get off can be inconsistent and he tends to come out a little higher than he should, but this would likely be corrected relatively quickly if he was asked to focus on it. Mack does not look like a fish out of water with his hand in the ground and could make that shift if a team needed him to or if they just wanted to add it to the options they have for him as a pass rusher.
Mack has a tremendous array of moves he can use to beat blockers, but most of them function on the idea of avoiding the block in the first place. When Mack is able to work half the man, he is virtually impossible to stop. He just has so many options that keep opponents off balance and make it difficult for them to adjust and lock onto him.
The first thing that makes Mack effective is his pad level. Mack does a fantastic job of consistently playing low, forcing opponents to have to reach down to block him and then hitting with them a rising blow to maximize his power. As a result, his functional strength is extremely high. Mack also seems to have heavy hands, at least against the competition he has faced in college. Mack does a good job of protecting his legs when opponents try to cut him and is able to keep his balance and keep going.
The times when opponents are able to get locked on to Mack, he does have trouble disengaging. He needs to continue to work on this and will occasionally be engulfed by the opponent.
Mack has tremendous instincts and range as a run defender. He reads his keys and diagnoses plays quickly, so he can react and make plays quickly. It is a difficult undertaking to fool Mack and he stays with his assignment and maintains gap integrity.
Mack can fight through trash and get past blockers to make plays across the field. He appears to have sideline to sideline range. Mack takes good angles to plays and wastes little effort in how he gets to them. He also works to try to make impact tackles with good form while ripping at the football.
Occasionally, Mack will run into issues with overrunning plays and just having trouble gearing down to make a play. Mack has shown he can stone an offensive lineman and make a play on the ball carrier, but it does not happen often enough at this point and some of the opponents he did this against were overmatched. The tools are there and if he keeps working, he can get better so he can be a more complete run defender.
Mack has a great bull rush and has demonstrated he could do some serious damage with that as his quickness makes it so he can shift from speed to power, catch an opponent under their pads and drive them into the backfield. It is curious why Mack does not use this more than he does. As effective as it is, he seems to prefer to use quickness to win.
Mack can put his foot in the ground and change the angle of his pass rush or accelerate how quickly he is going to rush. He is not afraid to plant outside to set up an inside move while making himself skinny to slip inside. And with his speed, opponents have to respect the outside move and it has created some quick plays for Mack. This has also created some options for Buffalo to use him on stunts, which he does a great job of selling and executing.
Mack is not afraid to use an outside speed rush but is able to anchor and avoid getting washed out easily. There are definitely times when this will result in him just ending up on the ground with nowhere to go, but there have also been times when he can use his low center of gravity and an inside to press the offensive tackle as he flattens out to the quarterback.
For whatever reason, Mack insists on using a swim move which stands out like a sore thumb when uses it against opponents who are much taller than he is and the result is his arm going straight up to get over them. It works for him, but it is certainly bizarre to watch and opens up his flank to get hit, which is why he should probably work to replace the swim with a rip move.
Mack has active hands and can keep opponents out of his body as a result. In addition to the swim move, Mack will also show an impressive dip move because he is able to get extremely low to the ground in the process while keeping his hips square to his target so he can get to the quarterback. And by virtue of him being so low, he rarely misses an opportunity to notch a sack.
Mack has shown the ability to get up and make a second or third effort to get after the quarterback and there have been situations when he is the guy cleaning it up as opposed to the one creating the play. When he has the scent, he keeps going after it whether he wins with the first move or if he has to chase the opponent down across the field. He has excellent acceleration and closing speed to eat up yardage in a hurry.
Mack is effective in zone coverage. He gets to his drops quickly, has a good sense of how plays are going. Mack does a terrific job of jamming receivers and not allowing opponents to get through his zone without getting hit. He can do this while also being elastic to where he needs to be in regards to his zone responsibility. Mack has also shown he can read the quarterback’s eyes and can make plays on the football.
Man coverage is more difficult for Mack. He can do it, but runs into problems when it comes to wholesale direction changes. His agility and ability to change direction is terrific when his hips are going forward, but he really can have issues when it comes to flipping his hips to get to plays. Mack can do a good job when it comes to sliding outside and covering running backs and opponents he is able to keep in front of him with his hands, but risks getting beat against opponents who can force him to flip and run with them.
The most natural fit for Mack is as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a leo backer. He can do it all. First and foremost, he can be a great pass rusher, but he can drop into coverage and play the run. Mack could also play defensive end if he needed, though it would not be an ideal fit. If a team wanted to use him as a primary outside backer but move him to an end in pass rushing situations, he can certainly do that as well.
Mack can also play strong side linebacker or inside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 if needed. It is incredibly unlikely either of these will happen but in terms of his run instincts, his ability to jam and his ability to blitz or drop in coverage, he could be great at those spots as well.
Put Mack somewhere and he instantly makes a team better and should be able to start the second he shows up to the field. He is just an incredibly natural football player with a nose for the football that has a tendency to make impact plays every single game.
Mack’s game is similar to that of Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens. Out of Arizona State, Suggs has been one of the most versatile pass rushers in the NFL since he entered the league and while he is at his best when he is rushing the passer, he can drop into coverage and make big plays. There just seems to be little that Suggs cannot do and that seems to be the case with Mack.
Khalil Mack has been a terrific player since he stepped in Buffalo’s campus as a freshman but he has gotten noticeably better by the year and is extremely close to being a complete player as he gets ready to head to the NFL with an extremely high football acumen. He needs to continue working on block shedding and perhaps try to loosen up his hips, but beyond that, he seems to be a plug and play type player. Mack is simply an outstanding player that warrants a first round pick and probably should go no worse than the top 15 in this year’s draft.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com