Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack continues to do everything in his power to force himself into the top-pick conversation of the 2014 NFL draft after a strong showing at the Bulls' pro day Tuesday.
Viewed as a likely top-10 selection for quite some time, Mack generated enough buzz in recent weeks to bolster his draft stock even further. Between the NFL Scouting Combine and Tuesday's workout, the hype surrounding the instant-impact defender is starting to reach a fever pitch.
Buffalo assistant athletic director for communications Jon Fuller noted the unofficial time for Mack in the 40-yard dash was in the low 4.5 range:
While that's an impressive mark for a 6'3'', 251-pound linebacker, it might have been even better. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported at least one scout in attendance for the workout clocked the run at 4.45:
Update from Pro Day of Buffalo LB Khalil Mack: One longtime NFL scout just said he clocked Mack in the 40 at 4.45...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 4, 2014
For comparison, Mack ran a 4.65 in the 40 during the combine, which ranked fourth among the linebacker group. An increase of two-tenths of a second would be notable for talent evaluators and could have made him the fastest at the position if he ran that time in Indianapolis.
The combine's official site ranked him as a top performer in four of the six athletic drills. His performance at the pro day, which only included the 40 and some positional drills, backed up that previous showing.
Every team should have a report on the latest presentation of his immense raw talent, too. Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News stated it appeared all 32 teams were in attendance to see the pro day, which was highlighted by Mack but also included fringe prospects like Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz.
I believe all 32 teams are accounted for here at UB's Pro Day.— Jay Skurski (@JaySkurski) March 4, 2014
After the lightning-quick 40, Mack took part in some individual work.
John Kryk of the Toronto Sun reported that he did a pass-rushing drill that was part of the workout, which isn't a surprise since that's what most interested teams will be looking for from the rising star:
Khalil Mack is doing at least one positional drill at #UB pro day. Pass rushing drill right now, it appears.— John Kryk (@JohnKryk) March 4, 2014
Chris Trapasso of ThisGivenSunday.com provided an Instagram video of Mack showing what he can do when asked to drop into coverage:
The workout reaffirmed what Mack has been saying throughout the process. He's ready to make an impact regardless of the role he's asked to play at the next level, whether it be a 4-3 defensive end, a 3-4 outside linebacker or even shifting inside if necessary.
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated passed along comments from Mack about not locking himself into one spot and thus limiting the number of potential suitors:
I told them I can play defensive end if they need me to. I don't want to limit myself to just playing one specific thing. I feel like that's the biggest thing for me. I try to work out with the defensive ends, with the linebackers, and I go over and work out with the DBs (defensive backs)—just to stay fresh. I don't want to put a limit on myself.
Now the question is whether Mack has done enough to overcome Jadeveon Clowney, a necessary step if he's going to become the top overall selection.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has been driving the Mack bandwagon for awhile. Before the combine, he said it would be difficult to take Clowney over the Buffalo linebacker. It's hard to imagine anything that's happened since then to change that view.
"It would be hard for me to take Jadeveon Clowney over Khalil Mack." - Mike Mayock— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 22, 2014
The deciding factor for the Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and other teams operating near the top of Round 1 with a chance at Clowney or Mack is how intrigued they are by the South Carolina defensive end's upside.
There's no doubting the incredible potential Clowney possesses. His combination of size, strength and athleticism is extremely rare. He hasn't put it all together on a consistent basis quite yet, but if he does he'll become one of the league's most dominant defensive players.
Although Mack can't match that type of upside, he's ready to step in right away in virtually any scheme and should have little trouble making his presence felt as a rookie. He's as polished as any prospect in the class, and he showed that again at the pro day.
Who should be the first defensive player drafted?
Ultimately, if Mack comes up short in his bid to become the top pick (a likely scenario) he still has a good chance to go inside the top five and shouldn't last beyond the top 10. He's a well-rounded prospect ready to make the NFL jump.
The best fits are the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons, at least before the free-agent frenzy gets underway. Both teams will be looking for pass-rushing options this offseason and Mack can get slotted into the Week 1 lineup without hesitation.
Mack's performance at the pro day solidified that outlook.