BBD Editor: Dan Hope
With a new hybrid defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the Buffalo Bills made a strong effort to overhaul their roster of outside linebackers this offseason. Four free-agent additions new to the roster—Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Marcus Dowtin and Jamaal Westerman—will see the majority of playing time when the Bills use odd defensive fronts.
Those four players won’t be the only outside linebackers generating buzz in Buffalo this year. In fact, the best outside linebacker in the metropolitan region might be playing for the Buffalo Bulls, a Division I college team, not the Bills.
Bulls senior Khalil Mack is quickly becoming one of the best outside linebackers in college football. A terrific athlete with the ability to line up all over the field, generate pressure off the edge and also drop back into coverage, Mack is one of the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in college football.
Fans of Buffalo football and talent evaluators were already familiar with Mack coming into his senior season, but he played on the biggest stage of his career to date Saturday when he took the field against Ohio State in the season opener both teams. He took advantage of the opportunity to impress NFL scouts against the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
Mack led the Bulls with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. Those statistics don’t even factor in the multiple pressures he had where a sack went through his arms, or the strip sack he forced inside the 10-yard line that was called back for an illegal hands to the face penalty.
On a team that was otherwise overmatched by the athleticism and skill of the Buckeyes, Mack was a difference-maker whose big plays helped turned the tide of the game in the second quarter. While the Buckeyes won the game by 20, they took a 23-0 lead before Mack had an outstanding second quarter, which went a long way in making the game competitive the rest of the way.
The following video cut-up, courtesy of Draft Breakdown’s Andrew Worstell, shows all of Mack’s plays from the season opener versus the Buckeyes. We will take a closer look at a few of the plays in detail as we break down Mack’s game and what makes him a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
(Editor’s Note: The remaining videos are spliced to highlight specific plays. They will all look like the same video, but when you click them they will take you to specific points in the video.)
Why Mack’s Draft Stock is On the Rise
The University of Buffalo has never had a player selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, but that is likely to change in 2014. If Mack builds momentum from his fantastic season-opening performance and continues to stand out the rest of the season, he is likely to go in Round 1.
Mack fits the prototype for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He is listed at 6’3” and 248 pounds by Buffalo’s official athletics website and is a very good all-around athlete.
How athletic is Mack? To get an idea, you don’t have to look any further than his interception return touchdown.
On the return, he managed to stay ahead of Ohio State H-back Dontre Wilson for 40 yards. Consider that Wilson has reportedly run a 4.33 40-yard dash, and although that time may be skewed a bit fast, a team source told me that Wilson stands out in practices as the team’s faster player, on a team that has no shortage of fast athletes.
Considering that Mack only lost 2-3 yards to Wilson over that yardage, he clearly has great speed for a 248-pound player. Perhaps an even more impressive display of athleticism was Mack’s lunge from the 5-yard line into the end zone.
Mack does not have a terrific first step off the edge or explosive acceleration, but more importantly, he is a very fluid athlete. He moves his feet naturally in space and has good lateral agility, which gives him the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. He has good balance and does a good job standing up through cut blocks, just like he did on the highlight-reel interception.