Khalil Mack is a player with a big name from a small school. The Buffalo standout is considered the second-best outside linebacker prospect in this year’s NFL draft class after putting together an immaculate four-year career in Upstate New York.
A first-team All-American, Jack Lambert Award winner, and MAC Defensive Player of the Year his senior campaign, Mack was a dominant force for the Bulls. He set an FBS record 75 tackles for loss and 16 forced fumbles, in addition to 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three interceptions this past year.
Mack is considered the fifth overall prospect, according to both ESPN Scouts Inc. and guru Mel Kiper Jr., and 10th overall by CBS Sports. While at Buffalo, Mack lined up all over the field, proving he can rush the passer from multiple positions. He’s also able to drop back into coverage, make tackles in the open field and has an above-average football IQ.
Of course, like any prospect from a smaller school, there’s always some skepticism about how Mack will fare against NFL-caliber competition. So success in the Senior Bowl will be pivotal for Mack to justify his status as a first-round pick, and it could allow him to creep into the top 10. But even despite the naysayers, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, Mack is the most sure thing in this draft.
One college scouting director has likened Mack to Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller in terms of how the two compare favorably to each other in terms of size and speed. NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks instead sees closer resemblance to San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks in more of a sidekick role opposite of a superstar.
Most mock drafts project Mack falling somewhere picks No. 3-9, and whether the Jacksonville Jaguars elect to nab a quarterback — let’s say Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles — plays a major role.
Mack could wind up being a fit with the Jags who pick third, and could serve in a Bruce Irvin-like role as the LEO for head coach Gus Bradley. But should they bypass him and look to fill another void, the Atlanta Falcons could come into play at No. 6.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants to make his team tougher in the trenches, and an aggressive pass rusher could do the trick. In all likelihood, Jadaveon Clowney is probably higher up on Atlanta’s wish list and UCLA’s Anthony Barr isn’t an ideal fit in the 4-3 scheme. So should Atlanta look to revamp its pass rush, Mack could be the choice.
Should Mack fall past Atlanta, he’s destined to be scooped up by either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, or Buffalo Bills between picks No. 7-9. Lovie Smith would love Mack to fall into his lap as he rebuilds the Bucs’ front seven, and if Mike Zimmer becomes the Vikings’ next coach he’d love to have a weapon like Mack. Buffalo is piecing together a very solid front seven, too, and Mack could be a part of it.