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There’s a lot to like about Khalil Mack

Posted May 7, 2014

The debate over the first player to be selected in the NFL Draft had centered on Jadeveon Clowney and a group of quarterbacks. Until, that is, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack got a boost from Mike Mayock.


COUNTDOWN TO THE NFL DRAFT

What: 79th annual NFL Draft

When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Rounds: First round on Thursday, starting at 5 p.m.; second and third rounds on Friday, starting at 4 p.m.; final four rounds on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

Seahawks picks (6): No. 32 overall in the first round; No. 64 overall in the second round; no third-round pick, traded to Vikings last year in the deal to acquire wide receiver Percy Harvin; No. 132 overall in the fourth round; No. 146 overall in the fifth round, from the Raiders in last year’s trade of quarterback Matt Flynn; No. 172 in the fifth round; No. 208 overall in the sixth round; no pick in the seventh round, traded the 247th selection overall to the Raiders for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Seahawks.com draft series: Today, the linebackers

Note: The opinions and analysis in this article and accompanying chart are those of the author and others credited, and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department.

During the NFL Scouting Combine, Mike Mayock said that if he had the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft he would select not Jadeveon Clowney or any of the available quarterbacks, but Khalil Mack.

BEST OF THE BUNCH
Rank Play, school Ht. Wt. Projected
1/2 OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo 6-3 251 1st Round
2/11 OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA 6-5 255 1st Round
1/15 ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama 6-2 234 1st Round
3/19 OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State 6-1 237 1st Round
4/51 OLB Carl Bradford, Arizona St. 6-1 250 2nd Round

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com

The word: There is enough depth to satisfy teams looking for linebackers well into the second day of the draft. But if it’s an instant starter and impact player you’re after, you’d better strike quickly – as evidenced by the gap between Shazier and Bradford in Rang’s rankings.

What about? Kyle Van Noy. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Van Noy decided to return for his senior season at BYU and NFL Network analyst Mayock says it was the right move. “I think it helped him. He became known as one of the best all-round linebacker in college football,” Mayock said. “There’s been a buzz about him the last month or six weeks. The buzz has been that he does everything well.” Mayock has Van Noy at No. 56 in his latest Top 100 rankings, while Rang has him at No. 54. That consistency matches Van Noy’s game. “I’m not sure he has one outstanding trait where you go, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ ” Mayock said. “But he does everything well. He did rush. He can drop. He can play inside, outside. People are trying to figure out where best to play him. His versatility is a huge plus.” 

Don’t forget about: Chris Borland. Inside/middle linebacker is not exactly a position of strength in this draft class, as evidenced by Mosley being the only one with a first-round projection. In fact, you’ve got to go all the way to No. 89 to find Rang’s No. 2-ranked inside ’backer. That would be Wisconsin’s Borland, and he’s worth the wait in Mayock’s estimation. “If there are 10 players in this draft that I love, he’s one of them,” Mayock said of the 6-foot, 248-pound Borland. “I didn’t even know who he was, quite frankly, in October when I put the tape in to get ready for a Notre Dame game and I watched BYU play Wisconsin. It was my first exposure to Chris Borland and I went, ‘Who is 44?’ ” The more Mayock saw of Borland, the more he liked him. “Every tape I put in I was like, ‘Wow, this kid reminds me of (Luke) Kuechly.” And that is saying something, as the Carolina Panthers’ middle linebacker was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year two years ago and NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season. Borland forced 15 fumbles while at Wisconsin, despite his lack of prototypical size. “He’s always around the football,” Mayock said. “I love Chris Borland.”

Seahawks situation: When it comes to linebackers, it’s quality over quantity for the Seahawks. They carried seven on the 53-man roster last season, but Heath Farwell is one of the best special teams players in the league and O’Brien Schofield is able to slide between end and outside linebacker. But just look how much they got from the other five who have all been added since coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider arrived in 2010: Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the team in tackles for the second consecutive season after being drafted in the second round in 2012; K.J. Wright has started on the weak side, the strong side and even in in the middle and the fourth-round pick in 2011 has made plays at all three spots; Bruce Irvin was a first-round pick in 2012 as a Leo end, but moved to strong-side ’backer last season; Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round pick in 2011, was MVP of the Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos; and Mike Morgan, who joined the team as a rookie free agent in 2011, is a core special teams player and able to step in at either of the outside linebacker spots. This doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t address the position in the draft, but it does mean any newcomers will have a difficult time earning a roster spot.

This week, the NFL Network analysis matched his rankings with his assessment, as Mayock pushed the University at Buffalo linebacker atop his Top 100 prospects list – ahead of Clowney, the freakishly talented defensive end from South Carolina; ahead of the offensive tackle trio of Auburn’s Greg Robinson (No. 3), Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews (No. 5) and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (No. 6); and way ahead of the carrousel that has become the QB class that includes Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (No. 10), Central Florida’s Blake Bortles (No. 15), Fresno State’s Derek Carr (No. 20) and free-falling Louisville passer Teddy Bridgewater (No. 42).

This isn’t Mayock shimmying out on a limb, because he’s been on Mack longer than most.

“You talk about a kid like Clowney, who’s just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, and if I had a choice between the two, I think I’m taking Mack,” Mayock said in February.

The more you see of the big-play linebacker from the little school in upper New York state the easier it is to understand Mayock’s take.

“I put the tape on not really knowing what to expect,” Mayock said. “I knew he had a lot of positive reviews from around the country. But the first tape I put on was Ohio State, and he blew them up. He made plays all over the field – on the edge, dropping into coverage, explosion, hustle.

“Then I think the next tape I put in was Kent State and he made a one-handed interception. He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge. From my perspective, in today’s NFL guys that have natural edge-rush ability are like gold – you’ve got to go get them when they are available.”

It’s a perspective Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn has had the past four seasons.

“From my opinion, I think he’s the best,” Quinn told The Chronicle-Telegram this week. “When you really break down his game, you find he possesses a lot of rare talents. He can pass rush. He can really change the game by his individual play. He’s very locked in to his assignments.

“He’s a complete player.”

Mayock has discovered those same traits that make Mack special.

“I think he’s one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles, he’s tough, he can play the run game and, unlike a lot of these guys, he can also drop into coverage,” Mayock said. “So I have yet to find a hole in his game.”

There are no holes in his resume, either, unless you include being overlooked by bigger schools coming out of Fort Pierce (Fla.) Westwood High School. Mack finished his career at Buffalo with 28.5 sacks, including 18.5 the past two seasons; 75 tackles for losses; and a NCAA-record 16 forced fumbles. In the 2013 season opener that Mayock mentioned, Buffalo took on Ohio State and Mack took over – to the tune of 9.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown.

At the Combine, the 6-foot-2½, 251-pound Mack ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, popped a 40-inch vertical leap and did 23 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press.

You won’t find a hole in Mack’s no-nonsense, lack-of-ego approach in interviews with the media and teams, either.

Asked about his versatility, he offered, “My versatility helps me in a lot of ways. If you have a guy who can rush the passer, as well as drop in coverage, that covers two of the big issues on the defense.”

Asked how much his big-time effort in the season opener against Ohio State helped his draft stock, he said, “A lot, especially being the first game of the season. It helped with the stage, I feel like there were a lot of people watching that game. It helped me tremendously.”

Asked to compare himself to current NFL players, Mack smiled and then made a face before he said, “I don't like those questions, because I don't want to be compared to anybody. At the same time, there are a lot of guys that I look up to and try to mimic my game after – as far as the Von Millers and Clay Matthews and Aldon Smiths and all those guys that get in the backfield, as well as get their hands on the ball and try to take it to the house.”

Mack also was asked about Mayock’s assessment, and he smiled again before offering, “Oh, Mike Mayock is the man. He's the man. I want to prove him right.”

Mack will get that chance Thursday night, when his name will be called a lot sooner than most would have expected just a few months ago.