Oakland Raiders Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Khalil Mack

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IIApril 28, 2014

Nov 29, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack (46) waits for the snap against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders have a number of big decisions to make in the 2014 NFL draft, and the direction they choose to go in the first round is certainly the most significant.

After a successful free-agency period, addressing a number of glaring needs throughout the roster, there are plenty of possibilities for that first pick at fifth overall. 

However, with pressure from ownership to make quick improvement in the coming season, the potential to add an instant-impact player may help bring those options into greater focus. 

If available, the prospect with the best chance of becoming that kind of player for the Raiders, and one who projects well long term, is Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.

One of this year’s top two pass-rushers along with Jadeveon Clowney, Mack plays with the kind of power and speed off the edge that can make him a force at the next level.

In the Raiders’ 4-3 under defensive front, Mack would fit best in a role similar to that of Von Miller in Denver.

A strong-side linebacker in base sets, he would slide to defensive end in nickel situations, utilizing his potentially elite ability to get after the quarterback off the edge. 

Of course, Sio Moore currently holds that spot for the Raiders and is one of the more promising young players on the roster overall, but the linebacker group could easily be shuffled around to accommodate both players if Mack was brought in. 

What is especially interesting about this fit is the connection head coach Dennis Allen had with Miller and his emergence in the league. 

Allen was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator for Miller’s rookie campaign in 2011, where he more than lived up to his high draft status, totaling 11.5 sacks on his way to becoming the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year.

He flourished in his role in Allen’s defense, and his instant dominance at the pro level will continue to make teams look for the next player who can do just that.

Although Mack’s size and strength at the point of attack could one day have him become an every-down defensive end in the NFL, this linebacker role would get him on the field soonest, utilizing his ability in coverage when needed as well. 

Either way, despite the variety of roles he can contribute in defensively, Mack is the highly touted prospect he is because of his ability to get after the quarterback. 

Being able to add Mack to Allen’s defense in a role similar to that of Von Miller would make the Raiders’ offseason priority of addressing the pass rush that much more of a success overall.

Of course, there are a number of other prospects who will also be under consideration for the Raiders’ pick at fifth overall, but offseason additions throughout the roster thus far suggest that Mack still remains the ideal pick.

For example, odds are that one of the draft’s top offensive tackles will be available when the Raiders are on the clock, including Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Auburn’s Greg Robinson. 

Losing Jared Veldheer to free agency will have many put the position as a priority for the Raiders in the first round, but with the current players in place for 2014, a rookie offensive tackle would have a hard time becoming that instant-impact player they need.

The two-year, $9.6 million deal the Raiders signed veteran offensive tackle Donald Penn to earlier this offseason indicates their plan for him to start on the left side.

Although 2013 second-round pick Menelik Watson struggled to get on the field throughout his rookie campaign, he will be the early favorite for the right tackle spot heading into next season, thus making the Raiders’ starting tackles relatively set.

Considering that, it remains tough to envision where a first-round offensive tackle would fit with the Raiders’ current group up front, at least in the short term. 

Assuming the Raiders don’t go with a quarterback at that fifth spot, the one other position group that could interest them the most is wide receiver.

Here, top prospects Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans could both be seen as fits for the Raiders’ offense, but the overall depth of the position in this year’s class suggests that the value is in the second and third rounds.

As a result, provided he is available when the Raiders are on the clock, Mack remains the ideal pick for the Silver and Black in the first round.

His contributions as an early-down linebacker and nickel pass-rusher off the edge can provide the defense with a significant boost from day one.

While the Raiders’ offseason additions on the defensive front, including Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, do indeed make the edge rush less of an immediate need, establishing a capable rotation is the ideal scenario.

Mack would allow the Raiders to do just that, and potentially much more long term.

Drafting Khalil Mack is a move that could make the Raiders’ front seven the strength of the team, and thus he is their best option for an instant-impact player at fifth overall.


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