With the NFL Scouting Combine workouts now on our doorstep, I'd figure now would be as apt a time as ever for an in-depth look at a player who, just like Anthony Barr, has formed some strong opinions within the Falcons community.
I didn't watch all of his tape, but I did hit a few notable games from his senior campaign: Baylor, San Diego State and Ohio State. So without further ado...
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Weight: 248 lbs.
Unofficial 40-yard dash: 4.64
2013: 100 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 7 PDs, 6 QB hurries, 5 FFs, 3 INTs
2012: 94 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 2 PDs, 4 QB hurries, 4 FFs
2011: 65 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PDs, 13 QB hurries, 5 FFs, 1 INT
2010: 68 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 10 PDs, 8 QB hurries, 2 FFs
I'll preface my thoughts with this: Mack was like a Swiss-army knife on defense at Buffalo. Though he was for all intents and purposes an outside linebacker, the Bulls coaching staff also felt comfortable lining him up on the edge in a 3-point stance and, occasionally, leaving him to cover the flat or the slot man.
He's got the strength you'd want in run defense, but also excellent pursuit to the ball, short-range burst and overall speed. He's durable as well, starting all but one game in his four seasons at Buffalo. And Mack has the body type you'd look for not only in a 3-4 edge rusher, but also potentially a 4-3 defensive end. Don't believe me? Well, here's what Mike Mayock had to say:
"You can line him up on a tight end, and he’d be OK. I think the important thing is that if you are drafting him as a 4-3 team, you’ve got to make sure that, in nickel and sub situations, you’re freeing him up to go get the quarterback. And in today’s NFL, because of the versatility in defenses, I think that’s fine."
As we know, that versatility would make him a natural fit in Mike Nolan's multiple front scheme.
I'll start here and be honest: I was a little underwhelmed by his play against the run in spots.
Now, it didn't help that he was far and away the best defender on his team, which led to opponents doubling him up constantly through the season (or to opposing teams simply running to the opposite side of the field). Still, there were times he found himself help up in the traffic of a play or blocked out of it. He's strong enough to hold his own at the point and shows excellent ability to pursue to a ballcarrier that's upfield or heading towards the sideline. His tackling is solid, though he tends to dive at a player's legs maybe more than he should. Very fluid moving around on the field, especially for his size.
As a whole, however, Mack still showed technical soundness in shedding some of the blockers he faced, and his production (194 tackles the past two seasons) clearly stands as evidence of his nose for the football. It could use some improvement, but his play against the run is still an asset in my mind.
This is where Mack surprised me. At times, and especially during the Ohio State game which pitted him against Jack Mewhort, he looked downright explosive attacking the pocket.
He's got speed coming around the edge and has the footwork to make a clean, decisive cut back inside from the outside when he wants to. Great bull rush. Consistent motor and a guy who could play significant snaps every week. As for his repertoire of moves, it didn't seem all that diverse, but again that's something a lot of guys don't develop (or don't have to develop) until they reach the pros. That said, there were plays when he got stood up and he does seem to struggle when being blocked by the wider, shorter guards on the inside.
Mack was still a fearsome pass rusher in college and he still has a bit of room to improve with the right coaching. The only real concern is that, while he did line up at defensive end at Buffalo, he wasn't called to do so all that often. So hopefully he wouldn't lose his explosiveness if exclusively lined up in the three-point (for the record, I don't think he would).
Pass coverage was probably the weakest part of Mack's college game. He wasn't so bad as to stand out, but his instincts and understanding there could probably stand to improve. Of course, if the Falcons draft him, it's likely Nolan wouldn't drop Mack back in coverage too often, either. Mack does have the size to match up with, say, a tight end, and he's fluid in the open field, so at least we know the tools are there for him to get better in coverage. But it would seem silly to me not to send him after the quarterback in passing situations.
Mack seems to play with a little bit of a mean streak in him - something the Falcons sorely lacked in 2013. One of the biggest critiques of Jadeveon Clowney has been his tendency to run around blocks to make plays, but if there's one thing I can say of Mack it's that he doesn't shy away from sticking his head in the middle of a pile.
When I compare him to Barr, I see Mack as the more instinctive and aware football player. He just seems to have a better idea of which direction the play is going, which makes sense considering he's had more experience at the position.
As for "character" or whatever, the only bit I ever see mentioned was a 1-game suspension in 2012 for violating team rules. Doubt that would be of much concern to the Falcons, depending on what sort of report they get from his college coaches.
I'll be blunt: I'm of the opinion that Mack is an overall better prospect than Barr. His defensive understanding is better, his game is more well-rounded and diverse, he has more experience and was used in such a wide variety of ways at Buffalo.
He's not Clowney, but he's more likely to instantly adopt a role on defense and he's less likely to bust than the guy that's only played linebacker for two seasons. I said I'd be surprised if Barr made it past the 11th or 12th overall in the draft, but for Mack, I wouldn't expect him to slip past the Bucs at No. 7. He's certainly a viable second option for the Falcons in May.
Your thoughts on Mack and how he compares to Barr?