The hybrid rush end/linebacker draws favorable comparisons to Green Bay Packers standout Clay Matthews, as both are self-made, hard-working performers, whether it is in the training room, practice field or game gridiron. He commands respect from teammates and opponents alike, and performs like a coach on the field, as he has high intelligence and excellent read-and-react diagnostic skills.
Mack is best when allowed to roam the field, as his high amount of turnovers caused and stops behind the line of scrimmage is proof positive that he is equally comfortable playing off the line and covering receivers in the short area, as he is when rushing the passer, whether coming off the edge as a pass rusher or bull rushing up the middle from the defensive tackle position.
On the field, the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision modern- day record-holder with 75.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage also set the school record and finished seventh in Mid-American Conference history with 28.5 sacks. His hard-hitting style of play also benefitted the Buffalo offense, as he established another major college all-time record by causing 16 fumbles, with the Bulls converting seven of those turnovers into touch-down drives.
Mack would conclude his career by leading the Bulls to just their second bowl appearance in school history, facing San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Buffalo had made its first postseason showing in the 2009 International Bowl after winning the 2008 MAC Championship, losing to Connecticut. Buffalo was invited to the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, but declined the invitation after being told two of its African-American players would not be allowed to participate in the game.
Among active major-college players, Mack led that group with his tackle-for-loss and caused fumble totals. His average of 1.56 tackles-for-loss per game not only led the active players, but rank ninth in NCAA history. His 62.0 solo tackles behind the line of scrimmage topped the active performers, along with his tackle-for-loss yardage figure (356). He ranks fourth with 25.0 solo sacks, 28.5 total sacks and third with sack-lost yardage totals of 217 yards.
Mack set a pair of NCAA records to close out his career. On Nov. 19, in the Miami (Ohio) clash, he caused three fumbles in the first half, giving him 16 for his career, passing five players that held the record of 14. The next week, in the regular season finale vs. Bowling Green, he recorded 2.5 tackles-for-loss, giving him 75.0 for his career, tying the NCAA and league record that was established by Western Michigan's Jason Babin (2000-03).
Mack enters the National Football League having started all 48 games. Along with the sacks and fumbles, he intercepted four passes and deflected 21 others.
At the 2014 NFL Combine, Mack secured his place among the elite draft prospects with an eye-opening performance. His 4.65-second clocking in the 40-yard dash was fourth-best for all linebackers in attendance. His 40-inch vertical jump was not only second-best among the 2014 group, but the ninth-best by a linebacker at a Combine in the last 10 years.
Mack then delivered a broad jump that measured 10'08", which was second-best among the 2014 linebacker class and seventh-best at that position in the last decade. He then placed fifth in his group with a 4.18-second run in the 20-yard shuttle.
University of Buffalo Bulls
Mack has a compact build with solid overall muscle tone, long arms (33 1/2-inches), good bubble, tapered thighs and calves, big hands (10 1/2-inches) and a frame that can carry some additional weight, but he is getting close to maximum bulk potential. He has a trim midsection, looking the part that teams want from a rush end/strong-side linebacker. He also displays minimal body fat, along with a well defined abdomen, tight waist and hips. His impressive wing span (81 1/8-inches) allows him to wrap and secure ball-carriers when making plays on the move.
Mack is a strong, powerful defender with excellent explosion and quickness to get to the football. He has exceptional sustained speed, making him a perfect candidate to rush off the edge or drop back and defend in short-to-intermediate pass coverage. He shows above-average flexibility and balance, along with superb body control and long arms that allow him to play off reach blocks to slip past opponents. He changes direction with no wasted motion and has the lower-body flexibility, hip snap and knee bend to work down the line or stand up and cover tight ends and slot receivers underneath. For a player of his size, he displays excellent strength and a hand punch that can rock an offensive tackle back on his heels (see 2013 Ohio State, Massachusetts, Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green games). He is the type of player who shows up every snap. He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force that needs to be accounted for on every play. He has fluid change-of-direction skills and a very quick first step. His flexibility and balance allow him to change direction instantly and what impresses most is his hip flip and balance to stay up on his feet working through a crowd.
Mack has that innate feel for blocking schemes and knows when to turn on the "afterburners" to race past lethargic blockers. He does all that is asked and is not a showboat — he just comes to play. He is not really a vocal leader, preferring to lead by example, but he always plays at a high tempo. He is an outstanding worker on the field who has a true passion for the game. He is the type of player that brings out the best in his teammates, either by setting an example or pushing his mates to play better. He has a very good feel to anticipate the play and react quickly. He is able to digest the playbook with minimal reps and shows good awareness to the action in front of him, as he can adjust to anything on the field.
Mack plays with nice effort and desire. He is a tough, aggressive player, yet you don't see recklessness in his play that will draw flags or the ire of the refs. He has that high motor needed to chase down plays in the backfield and he has shown good desire to get involved down field. With his flexibility, knee bend and change-of-direction agility (4.18 in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.08 in the three-cone drill), he does a nice job of working down the line, using his hands well to ward off blockers. When his teammates see how he pushes himself, especially when injured, they feed off his strong effort. He has a lot of Dave Pollack (ex-Georgia Bulldog perennial All-American) in him, as he plays at a high intensity level, showing urgency in everything that he does and pushes his team-mates to get the best out of their abilities.
Mack has outstanding take-off quickness, consistently beating the offensive tackles off the snap and up field. He has the suddenness to turn over and reach top speed, evident by the 75.0 tackles-for-loss that included 28.5 sacks while adding 31 QB pressures (see 2013 Ohio State, Stony Brook, Bowling Green and Massachusetts games). When he flashes that suddenness, he instantly gains advantage. His best asset is his initial step, as he can affect protections and be a very disruptive edge rusher. Coming off the snap, he shows excellent quickness to get into the offensive lineman. He has the closing speed and first step that lets him consistently beat tackles coming off the edge. He does a very good job of timing his jumps and uses his leg drive effectively to redirect.
Strength at Point
Mack might lack the bulk you look for in a classic defensive end, making him a much better option at strong-side linebacker. Still, he has that natural overall strength to stuff blockers and plays stout vs. the run (teams have averaged just 0.52 yards per carry with no touchdowns against him on the ground — see 2013 Stony Brook, Toledo and Bowling Green games). Even when blockers try to cover him or when challenged by double teams, he has good hand usage and a strong punch to shed when engaged. He works hard and knows how to use his natural power to stack and control in one-on-one confrontations and it is rare to see him get pushed around at the X's, thanks to his combination of speed and strength. He has the arm power and body control to split double teams, despite giving up bulk when challenged by the bigger offensive linemen. Earlier in his career, Mack was more of a speed/space-type of player, but improved overall strength has allowed him to easily handle lead blocks, as he knows how to use his hands to grab, lock on and jerk his opponent to the ground.
Use of Hands
Mack hands are very active when he encounters a blocker. He uses his hand punch and arm extension to separate and shed vs. the run, doing a very nice job when ripping and pulling (see 2013 Western Michigan, Toledo and Miami-Ohio games). With his ability to play with leverage, he has no problem maintaining separation at the X's. He is active trying to fend off bigger lineman in one-on-one battles and can penetrate and defeat blockers with his array of moves. He shows very good effort against the double team and protects his legs by using his hands effectively to keep blockers off his body. While he is more apt to fend off blockers by keeping his hands active, he does generate the power and force needed to shock and walk an offensive lineman back into the pocket with strong hand punch utilization. He scrapes to the ball well and uses his hands with force to defeat reach blocks and maintain separation.
One of the reasons I feel he can easily adjust to a stand-up position at strong-side linebacker is Mack's ability to give strong chase and effort moving from sideline to sideline (see 2013 Ohio State, Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green games). He has that sudden burst to get down the line of scrimmage and close from the backside. He usually shows good desire and effort in his chase/pursuit and plays well behind the block, keeping his feet active and moving to get through traffic. He stays on his feet and pursues well. He has a very active motor and is rarely taken off his feet. Much like the Vikings' Chad Greenway, he runs like a deer — showing great range to chase down his opponents along the sidelines, along with generating a valid closing burst to easily get through traffic. You can see on film his ease-of-movement flowing east-to-west to make plays all over the field.
Mack is a solid collision-type tackler, but needs to work on wrapping and securing better (see 2013 Eastern Michigan and San Diego State games) He certainly delivers a strong strike on contact, but will sometimes duck his head, resulting in runners able to sidestep his intended hits. He has the athletic ability to adjust and finish on his own in space. When he drives with arms extended, he can instantly stop the ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage (see 2013 Ohio State and Bowling Green games). When he uses his hands to lock up and keeps his shoulders square, he can punish. He just needs to become more comfortable in playing at a correct pad level and keeping helmet placement. He is very effective as a drag-down tackler after the chase and is also adept at stopping the ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage with his leg drive. He showed earlier in the 2013 schedule that he has the body control to break down in the open field, but he sometimes tries to be too explosive in his strikes with an intent to punish and that causes him to either over-pursue or a nifty ball-carrier to simply sidestep the tackle and break free.
Mack is a very good chase/pursuit type with nice change-of-direction agility and outstanding speed to make plays in long pursuit. He has the lateral range to slide and avoid when working in-line, but when his hands gets outside his frame, there will be times that he will struggle to shed. He has quick feet to play off blocks and fights back quickly when knocked down. He can get a side and keep it, using his lower body to hold at the point of attack. When he gets a little high in his stance, he struggles to disengage, as he is apt to leave his chest exposed and a savvy offensive lineman will then simply lock on with his hands to control. He seems to make most of his run plays on the outside, where he does a better job of keeping his feet and stringing the plays out. He has the change-of-direction agility to take away the cutback lanes. Even when he gets out of control and over-pursues, he works hard to recover (no quit in him).
Mack has cat-like quickness to simply run past the slower offensive tackles at the line of scrimmage. He has the body flexibility and knee bend to keep balance when suddenly having to turn. He is especially effective when redirecting and dipping back under. His long arms and strong hands allow him to free up on twists and games, but is best when making plays on the move rather than taking on one-on-one battles from a stationary position. He has the motor and tools to run the horn to get to the quarterback, (see 2013 Ohio State, Connecticut, Miami-Ohio and Western Michigan games). As a pass rusher, he has very good body control and excellent hip snap. Mack is like a defensive back, as he moves very fluidly when going in reverse. He shows very good explosion and anticipation coming off the edge or when shooting the gaps on the blitz. He is physical when "dogging" inside and has more than enough foot speed to flush out and chase down the quarterback from the backside. With his outstanding burst and up-field acceleration, he shows excellent timing and vision to adjust on the move, when he is able to keep blockers off his body.
Closing on the Quarterback
Mack has produced 31 pressures in 48 games, thanks to his sudden short-area quickness and burst when trying to close around the corner and down the line of scrimmage. He is best when chasing down the play on the move as he shows the extra surge to finish the deal off. When he puts on the after-burners, he can dominate and close on the ball in an instant (see 2013 Ohio State, Miami-Ohio, Connecticut and Bowling Green games). He is difficult to block when on the move, as he has that quick change-of-direction agility and an array of rush moves he uses with very good frequency. With his rare speed, he comes hard and aggressively to impact the pocket and take the quarterback down from the back side.
Mack shows good football instincts and awareness to locate the ball when on the move. He is more of a chase/pursuit player, as his lack of ideal size will limit his ability to track the ball in a crowd, as he is better on the move than when having to anchor and read. He seems to always be around the football and when he sees the schemes up front, he has the ability to react accordingly, as he excels at reading blocking keys. He is good at adjusting on the move and has more than enough quickness to attack from the outside, along with the power to drive past tackles to take an inside gap into the backfield.
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore: Much like Suggs and his new teammate, Elvis Dumerrvil, Mack has that incredible initial step and outstanding chase speed to make plays coming off the edge. He lacks the ideal size you look for in a classic 4-3 defensive end, making him more likely a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 alignment. Like Suggs, his raw power has seen him gain very good success vs. the run. Despite his sack and tackle-for-loss totals, there is much more to his game than just being a pass rusher and slipping into the backfield.
Mack is an excellent rush end, who is very productive and disruptive coming off the edge, using that explosive quickness of his to penetrate the backfield. He is a bit of an overachiever but he is a smart player with natural instincts who always seems to be around the ball. He shows explosive acceleration and excellent instincts into the backfield and is very effective using his hands to disengage.
Mack does a very good job of redirecting down the line and has the speed to close when in pursuit. He is generally a classic wrap-up tackler who makes good body adjustments and always makes plays with good force, but there are times where he tries to punish a ball-carrier and take a side rather than remain in front, as his opponent can easily slip off those tackle attempts. Still, he is a fierce pass rusher with a natural feel for the ball and he has demonstrated outstanding flexibility to get upfield and disrupt the snap.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.