The best mid-major defensive player in college football has a new home. The Oakland Raiders selected Buffalo linebacker Khalil mack with the No. 5 overall selection in Thursday night's first round, landing a player who is arguably the most pro-ready in the draft.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora indicated the news:
Mack, a four-year starter at Buffalo, compiled 100 total tackles and 10.5 sacks during his senior season, in which he transformed from an in-vogue sleeper to a top-10 lock. The Raiders had major issues in the pass rush last season and could use an influx of talent off the edge.
Mack's landing spot has been one of the hottest debates throughout the draft season. ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper (subscription required) both ranked Mack as the third-best player in the 2014 class, behind only Jadeveon Clowney and Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. He's their top-rated linebacker by a significant margin.
Although he rarely got much national recognition, Mack was a consistently dominant figure during his four-year run at Buffalo. Able to disrupt against both the run and pass, Mack played with a ferocity that was infectious with teammates. The Bulls finished 8-5 in Mack's senior season on the back of a stellar defense, which allowed only 24.4 points per game.
Mack won the 2013 MAC Defensive Player of the Year award and was a second-team All-American selection, per NFL.com. Viewed as a lock for the first round after the season wrapped up, Mack went about impressing scouts and vaulting himself further up draft boards.
He ran a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, compiled a 40-inch vertical leap and 4.18-second shuttle time at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. All the figures were among the best for players at his position group, and lend themselves to Mack's reputation as one of the two most explosive pass-rushing options in this draft. Mack projects best as an outside linebacker, but has shown the ability to come out of a three-point stance in 4-3 alignments.
“I feel my versatility can only add to my value on the team," Mack told Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website. "Whether I can play outside linebacker, whether I can play defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. I feel it all works to my benefit.”
Oakland should slide Mack right into the starting outside linebacker spot. The team has a hole and needs pass-rushing help after last season, so there has been a natural fit ever since Mack established his status among the class' best players.
What's interesting is where the oddsmakers will see Mack comparatively in preseason Defensive Rookie of the Year odds. While Clowney is considered by most (including yours truly) as the best player in the draft by a significant margin, the linebacker position has contributed eight of the last nine DROY winners. Mack's advantage is lessened by the fact that he'll be measured by the same general statistics as Clowney (sacks, pressures, etc.), but the Buffalo standout will have more opportunities and a greater run responsibility.
Both could frankly be at a disadvantage compared to this year's inside linebacker group, mostly because voters are easily swayed by tackling numbers. Nevertheless, if Mack performs even as a reasonable facsimile of his collegiate self as a rookie, the Raiders will be more than satisfied—hardware or not.
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