Elite pass-rushers don't grown on trees, and they're nearly as important as quarterbacks in today's pass-happy NFL game. For this reason, Buffalo's Khalil Mack will assuredly be selected in the top 10 overall during the 2014 NFL draft.
Heading into the combine, Mack had already drawn rave reviews from many top NFL draft analysts.
One such guru is Mike Mayock of NFL Network, who said he'd take Mack at No. 1 overall over any other player in the draft, including South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
When Mack heard the news, he took it in stride, as relayed by CollegeFootball 24/7:
Khalil Mack on Mike Mayock saying he'd take him as top pick: "Mike Mayock is the man. Now I have to prove him right." #NFLCombine— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 22, 2014
It wasn't the first time Mayock has praised the talented linebacker, either.
As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk relayed, Mayock gushed over his ability to impact the game in an interview with KFAN-AM:
He’s one of the best two or three players in this draft. I’m going to tell you right now, I’d take him with the first pick. Khalil Mack can play anywhere in the front. If you put the tape on against Ohio State, he dominates Ohio State like nobody I’ve ever seen dominate them. He’s explosive off the edge, he’s tough, he’s twitchy, he’s got a little edge about him. When I watch him on tape I feel like he’s p----d off at the world, and I like that. Then you put on a tape, I think it was Kent State, and he drops into coverage like a safety, reads the quarterback’s eyes, undercuts a route, one-handed interception.
Mack did everything in his power to prove Mayock right by posting ridiculous numbers during the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here's a look at his numbers:
|Height||Weight||40||Bench Press||Broad Jump||Vertical Jump||20-Yard Shuttle||3-Cone|
|6'3"||251 lbs||4.65 sec.||23||40 in.||128 in.||7.08 sec.||4.18 sec.|
Mack was a top-five performer in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps and, most importantly for him as a pass-rusher, in the three-cone drill. It was the kind of performance that had scouts drooling puddles onto the ground in front of them without their knowledge.
Dan Parr of NFL.com made a shocking report, noting that NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowler Willie McGinest called the linebacker a "more athletic version of 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman."
While it's always unfair to compare players before they've had a chance to prove themselves, there is no doubt Mack has the physical tools to become a perennial All-Pro linebacker in the NFL.
Perhaps B/R's Sigmund Bloom said it best, after Mack put up better overall numbers than Anthony Barr out of UCLA:
Khalil Mack testing better than Anthony Barr pretty much cements his status as first OLB off board. Put him in your top 10— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 24, 2014
The best part about Mack is that he's not just a workout wonder.
A four-year starter at Buffalo, he improved his game every year, and the stats bear this out.
|Tackles||Tackles for a Loss||Sacks||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
He finished his college career with 28.5 sacks, four interceptions, an FBS-record 16 forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns.
His on-field production, combined with his freakish athleticism, ideal size and knack for making game-breaking plays makes Mack one of this year's most exciting players.
Which player will have the best pro career?
It's hard to imagine he'll be drafted in the top five picks, given that four of the five need quarterbacks or offensive tackles—especially when considering Clowney will almost certainly be drafted before him.
That said, Oakland could make a bold move to draft him at No. 5, and the Atlanta Falcons would be crazy to let him slide past them at No. 6 overall. Mack will be drafted early in Round 1, and there's absolutely no way he slides out of the top 10 unless something crazy happens between now and May 8.
He's going to have a Von Miller-type impact for his new team, and nobody should be surprised if Mack's the proud new owner of the NFL's 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.