Mack’s ability to be a multi-dimensional player against the pass will likely draw the most attention to his game, determine his draft stock and make him a three-down player. That said, he could be just as valuable against the run to an NFL defense.
Mack’s ability to cover ground and make tackles gives him the versatility to line up inside as well as outside and make plays against the run. He is a high-motor player who is around the football more often than he is not. Although he does need to become a better tackler when chasing plays into the backfield, he is a very solid tackler in space who does a good job wrapping up a ballcarrier and driving them to the ground.
He could be a great asset against the run as a 3-4 outside linebacker because of his ability to defend the edge of the line of scrimmage. A good example came in the third quarter versus the Buckeyes, when Mack beat a tight end block out on the edge and shut down Jordan Hall out in space at the line of scrimmage.
With his quick feet in space, he should not have much trouble playing against the read option offenses that quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are permeating the NFL with.
The above example against another potential future NFL read-option quarterback, Miller, shows his ability to sync up his feet with his eyes and defend an option well, giving Miller nowhere to run and hitting him as he pitched the ball to his outside running back.
Mack’s pursuit speed is another major asset to him in run defense. Much like he could run ahead of offensive players on the interception return, he could keep up with offensive skill-position players downfield and chase them down to make plays.
An example of that came against the Buckeyes when he beat right tackle Taylor Decker with an outside swim move around the edge, then chased Miller all the way out to the left sideline 13 yards upfield on a quarterback keeper.
Another impressive aspect of Mack’s run defense is his ability to drive through his opponent with force. On the following play from 2012 versus Kent State, Mack does a great job of moving out laterally to the sideline, then lays into a running back with a hard hit that can be heard through the TV cameras.
One area where Mack must improve as a run-defending 3-4 outside linebacker, however, is in holding his ground at the line of scrimmage. He tends to get driven back off the line when he allows a blocker to come to him and engage him, which can drive him out of running plays and allow runs to come his direction. This continued to be a problem against the Buckeyes, even against tight ends and against struggling right tackle Decker.
Could Mack Continue His Career in Buffalo?
It would certainly make quite a story if Mack became not only the first Buffalo Bull to be drafted in the early rounds, but also end up continuing his career in Buffalo by being selected by the Bills.
The Bills should certainly take the time to scout Mack thoroughly; given the proximity, they have no excuse not to. Mack’s versatility would make him a very good fit in Pettine’s defense, and he would likely be an upgrade over Lawson, Hughes and Dowtin.
That said, the chances of Mack becoming a Bill remain unlikely. Given the number of concerns the Bills have going into the season, chances are good that they will be selecting early in the first round, ahead of Mack is likely to come off the board. If in that position, it will likely be necessary for them to focus on building up a position of greater need, such as the secondary or offensive line, rather than drafting at a position they just overhauled this offseason.
If the Bills have a surprisingly good season, Mack could certainly become an option in the mid-to-late first round if his stock continues on an upward trajectory. On the other hand, if Mack settles into the second round of the draft, he could be a great second-round choice for the Bills to bolster their defense and potentially end up with a steal.
Whichever team drafts Mack is likely to end up with a good player. He has the versatility and all-around skill set to thrive in any scheme, but projects as a potential star for a 3-4 defense.