Khalil Mack, Buffalo (Steve Conner/Icon SMI)
Khalil Mack could have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and there would have been plenty of reasons to applaud the decision. He wound up No. 5 instead, to the rebuilding Oakland Raiders.
It's a boon for Oakland, despite passing on Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, and watching Sammy Watkins go off the board one pick earlier. The Raiders brought in Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley during free agency, and Mack will slot in behind them in the 4-3, likely playing a role similar to Von Miller in Denver.
Strengths: A 3-4 OLB spot might be ideal, but Mack’s versatility makes him a fit for any scheme — he mentioned at the combine that he had been telling NFL coaches he could play with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 end if they wanted. Creates constant problems for offensive linemen because of the variety of ways he can get to the quarterback. Speed’s (4.65) a real selling point, but Mack also plays with strong hands at the line, enabling him to get through blocks.
Rarely, if ever, pancaked or driven into the second level. Not a defender who can be chop-blocked either, due to steady balance. Mack does not mind creating contact at the point of attack, an approach that he brings over to an aggressive tackling style.
His three interceptions last season point to competency in pass coverage. Especially when the play develops in front of him — screens, short passes to tight ends, check-downs — Mack reacts rapidly and closes on the football. Confidence is there to succeed, as is that chip-on-the-shoulder intangible that teams will not fail to notice.
Weaknesses: Will need to improve his coverage techniques; even with his speed, he will be a little touch-and-go early when it comes to covering NFL tight ends and RBs. Players like Mack from mid-major schools always will have to answer for the competition level they faced, and Mack had two of his least productive games against Baylor and in that bowl loss to San Diego State.
If Mack is going to play along the line, either as a DE or stand-up rush linebacker, he has to get quicker jumps off the snap. Everything he does when pass-rushing can take a little longer than it needs to, either because of slow reaction time off the snap or because he allows himself to be pushed too wide by a blocker.
Basically, the same reaction here as to Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1, just four picks lower. The Raiders would have taken a quarterback if they felt totally comfortable with one of the guys there. Rather than reach at the game's most important position, they continued stockpiling defensive talent.
Mack may be the most complete defender in this draft, even ahead of Clowney. His ideal fit probably would have been in a 3-4, but the Raiders will show multiple looks on defense and will find ways to utilize Mack. Considering he is adept at rushing the passer, stuffing the run and dropping in coverage, working him into the mix should not be too difficult.
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