On May 8th when Khalil Mack was chosen 5th overall by the Oakland Raiders, he became the highest drafted player in University at Buffalo history, but that wasn't the first time he made history, and it's certainly not the last time he will.
The draft was merely a first step on an even greater journey.
The praise from teammates and coaches came before he had even stepped on the field in an actual NFL game. Mack turned heads in training camp and OTAs with his seemingly inhuman displays of athleticism and a relentless motor that would strike fear into any offensive lineman, and make a quarterback have a set of eyes in the back of his head.
Mack would go on in the preseason to show off those skills in a play reminiscent of the play against Ohio State which put his name on the top-15 map. He leaped in front of a Matt Flynn pass and snatched it out of the air. Unfortunately the offensive lineman had a hold of his jersey and was able to drag Mack down before he went for 6.
Once the regular season started Mack turned up the intensity to 11 and was just as dominant as any linebacker in the NFL. He started with back-to-back six tackle games against the New York Jets and Houston Texans, then went on to have a dominant 11 tackle, 3 stuff game against the Arizona Cardinals, where he was a force against the run.
As the season went on it seemed like an eternity before Mack had his first career sack, but finally broke through against the San Diego Chargers, taking down Philip Rivers. He put his relentless motor to full use, not quitting after he had pushed King Dunlap back into the pocket forcing Rivers to climb; he used a spin move to get away from Dunlap and drag Rivers down from behind.
Then, after a two-sack game in the Raiders' 24-13 beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers, Mack had the best game of his young career against the visiting Buffalo Bills, the same Buffalo Bills that passed over him after they traded up to number 4 overall. Mack was virtually unstoppable in the run game, limiting the Bills to just 13 yards on the ground. Don't just take my word for it, watch the Vine below where Mack is double teamed and he still kept outside contain on the screen pass.
And it's not just on this particular play that Mack was so dominant against the run, he was a consistent force like this on nearly every play of every game. For his efforts, the folks at ProFootballFocus (subscription required) rated Mack as the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL with a cumulative +47.4 in the run game.
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Khalil Mack was better than All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, a frequent comparison during the draft process, and his run defense rating was first in the NFL by a mile. He's also a strong contender to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl. However, he's shrugged off the individual accolades, putting an importance on winning games as a team.
But do you want to know what the scariest thing about Khalil Mack is (assuming you're an opposing quarterback/playcaller)?
Mack is only 23 years old (he turns 24 in February), he's already one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and he's only going to get better. Quarterbacks in the AFC West will start having nightmares about being hit by Khalil Mack, and they won't be checking under their beds and in their closets for the boogeyman, they'll be checking for Mack.
Mack has shown the Oakland Raiders and the NFL that he belongs and that he's one of the best with one of the most outstanding linebacker rookie seasons in recent memory. Definitely keep an eye on Mack when the NFL Honors Show rolls around on January 31st; and keep an eye on him for about the next decade or so as he looks to be a perennial All-Pro, and Pro Bowler.