Already a likely top pick, edge rusher Khalil Mack cemented his status as one of the best players in the 2014 NFL Draft by blazing through his 40-yard dash at the University of Buffalo pro day Tuesday.
It was Mack's only measured workout of the day, and he nailed it.
According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun and most other reporters in Buffalo, Mack's lone run clocked in at an unofficial time of around 4.54 seconds, down over a tenth of a second from his official combine time of 4.65.
Per Kryk, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine were in Buffalo to see the workout. Bills general manager Doug Whaley and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also made an appearance, per Bleacher Report's Chris Trapasso. All three teams have picks in the top 10 of May's draft.
At least one scout in attendance had Mack running even faster than most others timed. ESPN's Adam Schefter heard from a long-time NFL scout who had Mack finishing at 4.45 seconds, a ridiculous time (if accurate) for a pass-rusher standing 6'3" and weighing 251 pounds.
For comparison's sake, consider that no defensive lineman or linebacker—including South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney—ran an official time faster than 4.51 seconds at the NFL combine. Clowney, who is also expected to land among the top picks, finished at 4.53 seconds.
In fact, only eight cornerbacks and safeties ran faster than 4.45 in Indianapolis. But even with a hand-clocked time of 4.54 seconds, Mack would have finished fourth among defensive linemen and linebackers.
His still-impressive time of 4.65 seconds at the combine was eighth among his position group.
Mack did not run a second 40 at Tuesday's pro day. And he didn't need to.
While pro-day times are generally better than those posted at the high-stress environment of the NFL combine, Mack's blistering 40 Tuesday has likely locked his draft stock within the first 8-10 picks. And it might even give him a chance to be the No. 1 overall selection, which is owned by the Houston Texans.
After his pro day workout, Mack admitted how important it was to produce an impressive showing following the combine.
I knew I wanted to do the 40 coming in after the combine. Based on the time that I had, I knew it was important for me and my confidence to go back out and try to get under 4.6, which I knew I’m capable of doing. I decided to do the drills because you can always get work in, especially if there are 32 teams watching.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports believes five players are currently in the running to be the top pick, including Mack, Clowney, quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater and offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Mack may be the best fit of the bunch, especially if Houston doesn't fall head over heels for Bortles or Bridgewater.
But if the Texans do decide to take Clowney—who's potentially a once-in-a-generation talent—or one of the top quarterbacks, Mack's fall down the draft board shouldn't last long.
A lightning quick edge rusher with strength (23 reps on the bench press at the combine) and college production (28.5 career sacks, 74 tackles for losses), Mack should appeal to a number of teams with high picks in May's draft. Among those include any franchise picking between the No. 3 and No. 9 picks, but especially the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 overall), Raiders (No. 5), Atlanta Falcons (No. 6) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 8).
With so many teams needing edge rushers early in the draft, it's difficult envisioning Mack getting out of the top 10.
Part of Mack's immense appeal is his ability to be scheme-versatile. He has the athleticism to stand up and rush as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, and the size and strength to play a Von Miller-like role as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid in the 4-3.
Mack's blazing 40-yard dash Tuesday should only solidify the idea that he could play standing up or with his hand on the ground. He's clearly fast and flexible enough to bend around offensive tackles and hang with tight ends and running backs in space.
Come May, Mack should be in high demand.
Players with Mack's defensive versatility, pass-rushing production and now perfectly obvious athleticism are extremely valuable in today's pass-heavy NFL. Teams routinely use high picks in the draft and cap room in free agency to find impact edge rushers.
With the majority of Mack's pre-draft work now in the rear-view mirror, it is clear that he has every tool necessary to become an immediate impact player in a variety of roles at the next level.
Mack's break-neck 40 time Tuesday, when combined with an impressive combine effort and his dynamic college film, should ensure the Buffalo edge rusher is one of the top picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. The only remaining question is how early—with the No. 1 pick still in play—Mack hears his name.
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