From Prospect To Pro: Comparing Khalil Mack To Tamba Hali
By Ken Scudero
When you have a talented prospect playing at a smaller FBS school in the Mid-American Conference, how can you determine how good the player really is? It gets dicey evaluating a player based on domination against schools like Stony Brook and UMass, so you place heavy emphasis on the prospect’s performance against teams from the BCS leagues. One of my favorite linebacker prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft is Khalil Mack of Buffalo. He’s 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, has the size of a middle linebacker but plays outside, and reminds me of Penn State alum and Kansas City Chiefs superstar, Tamba Hali.
Buffalo opened the season at Ohio State, and even though the Bulls lost the game, Mack had a career day with 2.5 sacks, nine total tackles and an interception which he returned 45 yards for a TD. He proved he could compete against a Big Ten offensive line and not only compete but actually dominate.
The following week, Buffalo visited Baylor, where it gave up 70 points. Mack had just four tackles but he’s bounced back in every game since then. Through seven games this season, he’s racked up 44 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 TDs and 4 passes defended. He has excellent size and could definitely play in a 4-3 defense as a middle linebacker but he’s most effective as an outside pass rusher in a 3-4.
Like Hali (6-3, 275), Mack explodes like a rocket off the edge and doesn’t give the quarterback any time to make a decision. He is the type of player who the offense must gameplan against, looking for a way to keep him out of the backfield. Mack may even be more athletic than Hali, quick enough to run back an interception for a TD any chance he gets. He is a force, like Hali, tackling with perfect form, driving runners back for losses regularly.
Hali has made a living in the NFL getting near or around the ballcarrier, and even if he can’t wrap up, he can tackle with simply an arm. That’s where he and Mack are so similar, in their unbelievably raw strength. They both get into the backfield within a second or two of the snap and they both also excel when dropping back and covering as a traditional linebacker. They are both hybrid linebackers, but unlike a Clay Matthews or an Aldon Smith who blitz 95% of the time, they are versatile in their ability to cover running backs and tight ends on short to intermediate routes.
All you have to do is watch a Buffalo game and keep your eye on Mack -- before the play, during the play and after it. Watch his natural instincts at work, his awesome ability to find the ball, whether he’s up on the line rushing the quarterback or dropping back looking to intercept a pass or put a hit on a tight end. He plays the same game as Hali, who has been doing it effectively for eight years in the NFL. Mack is the perfect combatant against the read option, which has been so popular of late in pro football. He’s so versatile and will make an automatic impact in 2014 as an NFL linebacker.