The NFL has become a league that is predicated on speed and athleticism. The passing game has an increased emphasis, and the rules have been skewed to reward teams for throwing the football. That means every team is looking to improve their pass rush on defense. Striking the fear of God into an opposing quarterback can be as good as a Pro Bowl cornerback. Applying this to the 2014 NFL draft, pass rushing linebackers/defensive ends are typically coveted and drafted perhaps earlier than normal.
This brings me to Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack is one of my favorite players in this draft, and the player I expect a meteoric climb for him during this college football season. He is physically imposing at 6-foot-3 and around 245 pounds, with long arms and a frame that looks like he can hold another 10 pounds pretty easily. But beyond his physical frame, it’s his style of play that impresses.
As a run stopper, Mack uses his speed and aggression, along with exceptional instincts to diagnose and break down the play quickly. His agility is top notch and he shows excellent skills in breaking down the running back and finding the football. When he gets there, he finished with the same level of energy and aggression his entire game is predicated on. He’s a great wrap up tackler and even though he goes in looking for the big hit he doesn’t miss as many tackles as you might expect.
But we are here to talk about pass rushing. Mack does a great job getting low, turning up field and getting around the corner on the tackle. Understanding leverage is key and Mack does a great job at it. He doesn’t show a great group of pass rush moves, but his outside technique is very good and pairing it up with a dynamic first step and legit explosion off the snap you can see his upside in the NFL is very high. Mack uses his hands well, and doesn’t shy away from contact. He does a great job getting his hands up into the lineman, and once he is ready to disengage he chucks the lineman aside.
Obviously Mack’s game isn’t perfect. There are times when Mack completely loses out on the play due to his aggressive nature. This is an acceptable trade off for all the great plays Mack makes. There are times when just a bit of restraint would pay big dividends. He could also stand to add a an inside pass rush move to keep tackles from working him outside and out of the play. He can learn to use that power to blow back inside with a bull rush, he would be an even more intimidating type of player.
Looking to 2013, it’s not hard to say that Mack is easily the best defensive player in the MAC, and maybe the best all around player. He is going to once again roll up tremendous stats and a highlight reel that will make every other defensive player envious. The only problem is, other than Ohio State Mack won’t really face any top tier talent. This will make his offseason, particularly the All-Star game component of it crucial. Every year we see players who uses the offseason to justify their film and work their way into the first round. This year, Mack is going to be that guy.