While 38 sacks, tied for 18th in the NFL, may seem respectable, it did not look good for the Oakland Raiders. Their best pass rushers were Lamarr Houston, a run stopping defensive end; Nick Roach, their jack-of-all-trades middle linebacker; and Sio Moore, a rookie linebacker. One of their biggest needs for 2014 is to ramp up the pass rush any way they can.
One of the top talents as a pass rusher behind consensus top prospect Jadeveon Clowney is Khalil Mack, a linebacker from the University of Buffalo. While he mostly played as a strongside linebacker in Buffalo’s 4-3 scheme, he did frequently line up on the line of scrimmage. He did everything at a high level: rush the passer, stop the run, and even drop into coverage.
He came into 2013 as an unknown name to most outside draft circles. However in the season opener against Ohio State, he showed up on the national stage in a big way. Mack accumulated nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. See the interception at the start of the video below.
Although it was what he did that wasn’t on the stat sheet here. Watch here at 1:05 as Mack just bullies the left tackle and forces Braxton Miller to throw it away.
Mack is a highly instinctive player, as he proved on his interception. He is extremely adept at reading blockers, especially their feet which he uses to set up his pass rushes. He also has unnatural speed for a rusher, which he uses both in coverage and when rushing. He has shown to be able to convert that speed to power and bull rush through tackles with ease.
Against the run and vs mobile quarterbacks, he is very disciplined when reading the edge. He knows to read where the play is going and when to disengage. He has phenomenal hand work to keep blockers off him, as well as good awareness to avoid cut blocks. He could work on his tackling in the field better, but that’s an easily coachable trait in the NFL.
See here at :52 as he quickly recognizes the play and cuts back across the blocker to make the tackle.
Mack is versatile enough to drop into coverage. His football smarts allow him to fluidly pick up receivers and his speed allows him to keep up enough and take away the receiver. In the video above at 3: 23, he drops into and area of two receivers and covers both well enough to make the quarterback scramble to the other side of the field.
While Oakland already possesses a player like Mack in Sio Moore, Mack is faster and stronger. He is the ultimate movable chess piece that would benefit Jason Tarver’s lousy defense. Mack could easily be plugged in at strongside linebacker from day one. Tarver would move him to the line of scrimmage frequently, especially on passing downs. While he did not play with his hand in the ground much at Buffalo, he has enough power and momentum coming out of a two point stance to offset that.
If Tarver feels both Mack and Moore should be on the field simultaneously, he might experiment with 3-4 looks and having both line up on the edge. This could heavily improve the Raiders run defense, as many of their current defensive linemen are bigger run stuffing options. Putting Mack and Moore on the edge in a two point stance is where they win.
In the event Reggie McKenzie cannot get Clowney with the the fifth pick, Mack would be an excellent consolation prize to infuse pass rushing talent onto a defense that severely lacks it.