Out of nowhere the pass-rusher threw a right jab like a boxer. One second he’s running downhill and the next … BAM! He pinned the offensive tackle on his heels, with the blocker stumbling into his own backfield, waiting for someone — anyone —to help. The pass-rusher went through the tackle and turned the corner, pressuring the quarterback out of the pocket and forcing an incompletion.
That’s the norm for the 6’3″, 251-pound Khalil Mack, who is a specimen from the University of Buffalo. His abdomen is littered with a six pack of abs. His muscles pop off his arms like landmark sites formed from natural disasters. And his legs are thick throughout.
There’s more to him than just a specimen, though. He’s a football player. He’s instinctive and aware. He’s quick-footed and versatile, with skills for the defensive end or outside linebacker position. Altogether, the traits equal to a projected top 10 pick.
It’s not surprising. He has what NFL teams look for at the top the draft. Not to mention, if any teams still talk themselves into “safe picks” existing, Mack is probably it. He’s bound to be solid, if only because of the sheer number of things he can do and how hard he works at them.
One skill that he can continue to build on is using his power. He has heavy hands that allow him to jolt blockers at the point of attack, giving him an early advantage in a one-on-one matchup. This particularly stood out against Ohio State, the toughest competitor he faced in college.
On second down, he fired out of a three-point stance and immediately went after the Buckeyes’ right tackle. His first two steps went inside. The third went outside, forcing the offensive tackle to slide out. Mack’s hips didn’t change direction, however; he kept them square.
When it came to his fourth step, Mack shuffled his feet. He was in the process of converting from speed to power. He placed his left foot back and extended his arms, punching the offensive tackle’s left breast plate. At the same time, he sunk his hips, powering through his lower body and the offensive tackle, whose body contorted away from the line of scrimmage and weighed on only his left foot.
To finish it off, Mack sunk his hips deeper, planted off his left foot and shot into the pocket, where he pulled the quarterback down for the sack (2:55).
What comes with his dominating power is speed. He has enough quickness around the edge, and when he’s able to set up his rush with an inside move, it makes it very difficult for offensive tackles to figure out how to block him.
Tackles are taught to block inside-out, but some will cheat outside to fend off a speed-rush. Others will cheat inside to protect against a bull-rush. What will they do if Mack develops a speed-rush and a bull-rush?
That’s the potential he flashed against San Diego State, when he made it seem like he was going to bull-rush their right tackle only to lower his shoulder and turn the corner.
It was third-and-9 midway through the first quarter. Mack lined up at left outside linebacker, outside the right tackle. He was in a two-point stance.
When he fired off the line, he came directly at the right tackle, who kick-slid short, expecting an inside rush. At first glance, the tackle saw what he wanted; Mack was coming in with his hands up and his shoulders low — both signs of a bull-rush.
What came next surprised him, however. Mack swung his right shoulder around and lowered it under the tackle’s outside shoulder, gaining the leverage advantage as he kept his feet moving to turn the corner.
At the 25 yard-line he closed in on the quarterback, who hit the top of his drop and stepped forward, climbing the pocket and narrowly escaping Mack, who fell to the ground at the end of the rush (2:32).
There was a chance that he would have registered the sack if he was able to continue to keep his pads low. When he turned the corner, he slightly raised up, causing him to slow down and forcing him to miss the quarterback.
These nuances are something Mack will have to learn in the NFL, where hopefully a team will ease him in at one position early on. It’s possible he plays defensive end or linebacker. He has the talent to do both, but he’s better suited at linebacker where he has more room to setup his rushes and use his power or quickness, or even coverage skills.
Whichever position he does end up at, he’ll be counted on to beat offensive tackles.