Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
6-foot-3, 251 pounds
2013 stats: 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 10 passes defended, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds
The good: How did such a lightly recruited player become such a coveted NFL prospect? It certainly adds mystery to him heading into May 8. Mack redshirted his first year in college and then spent most of the next four college seasons living in opponents' backfields. He racked up 18 sacks and 56.5 tackles in his first three seasons with the Bulls, earning all-MAC mention as a sophomore and junior. Mack then kicked off his senior season with a life-changing performance in the opener at Ohio State, with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
That game started the talk: Perhaps Mack could rise into the top-10 in the 2014 draft. Rest assured, he will.
His combination of athleticism and power was on display at the scouting combine (a strong 40-yard dash, and top-eight numbers among outside linebackers in every other drill he performed), and his game tape reveals an instinctive, disruptive and competitive force off the edge. Mack might be best standing up — either as a Clay Matthews-like 3-4 outside linebacker, or a Von Miller-like 4-3 edge rusher — but also could be put in a three-point stance on a lighter front in passing situations.
The bad: Mack's level of competition has been scrutinized, even with games against Ohio State, Baylor, nationally ranked Northern Illinois, Georgia, Pitt and Tennessee the past few seasons. Others have pointed to a few of his weaker performances (including against Bowling Green, with a MAC title game appearance on the line, and vs. Baylor). Some note that Mack's monster game against the Buckeyes came predominantly against a freshman tackle making his first college start. All must be taken into consideration. Mack also might not be big or forceful enough to handle the NFL rigors as a full-time player in the trenches, which could limit his value.
The verdict: Look, we understand that scouts must find holes in players' games. But Mack has few evident ones. He's a polished, experienced, versatile and explosive rusher who could be just shy of the Matthews-Miller-DeMarcus Ware-Aldon Smith level, but if he is it's not by a lot. Mack's ball-jarring and edge-rushing ability make him something of a John Abraham-Ahmad Brooks clone, and that's a very, very good thing.
"I don't want to limit myself to just playing one specific thing," Mack said at the combine, adding that he often will work out with defensive backs just to "stay loose."
The NFL, now more than ever, seeks talented and versatile edge players who can run the gamut: rushing the passer, stacking and shedding against the run, backside pursuit ability and dropping into coverage. There are few players in the league who can do all of these effectively, but Mack appears to have that ability and potential. It would be a shock if Mack makes it out of the first seven picks in the draft, and he could go as high as No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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