Khalil Mack remains a very large mystery when it comes to the Cleveland Browns' draft plans.
Mack was the standout linebacker for the University at Buffalo whose draft stock in the eyes of NFL types has remained consistently high.
Merrill Hoge calls Mack the best football player -- not workout warrior or speed demon -- in the draft, and those projecting the picks consistently have him in the top 10, with some putting him top three or four.
Browns coach Mike Pettine described Mack this way at the NFL owner’s meetings: “Explosive athlete. He's a guy that tested extremely well, but he's not a tester. He's not a combine warrior. He's a guy that the tape backs it up. He can play on the ball, he can play off the ball, he plays violently and he's played some of his better games against better competition.”
Pettine said his nickname once was Blunt Force Trauma. Mack seems to fit that mold. He’s a 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker who can rush the passer and drop into coverage, a pretty rare combination of skills in this day of specialization.
Would the Browns take Mack?
Before they do, they have to believe two things. The first is that the top quarterbacks are not good enough to take with the No. 4 overall pick. The second is that they can find a receiver lower in this receiver-deep draft to pair with Josh Gordon as opposed to using the No. 4 pick on Sammy Watkins (who remains the preferred choice in my draft corner, though Mack is a not-very-distant second).
Mack brings a lot to the table, but the main concern is he stood out in the MAC, which will never be confused with the SEC. Pettine even admitted the MAC is “perceived to be a lesser conference.”
“But then you see him play against Ohio State ...” Pettine said.
Mack dominated, with nine tackles, 2½ sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown. That game is Mack’s argument to the “lesser conference” criticism.
Mack and Jadeveon Clowney in the same draft almost harkens back to 1999 when running backs Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James were eligible. Williams was considered the sure thing, but Bill Polian took James first, and he turned out to be the better player. Mack might in the long run be the better overall player.
Mack is touted as an outside linebacker, and with his pass-rush ability he could even line up at end. But Pettine said he would not limit him.
“I think when you have a special guy like that, I think his home base will be outside, but we'll look to move him all around to take advantage of his ability,” Pettine said.
ESPN.com Senior Editor Chris Sprow has worked with Mel Kiper Jr. for five years, helping Kiper with reports and information. He went to the Ohio State-Buffalo game and focused specifically on Mack. He points out that the balance with Mack is this: If he’s a great pass-rusher, he’s a top-five pick. But if he doesn’t develop into a great pass-rusher, a team then is using a pick on a very solid outside linebacker. Mack’s coverage skills and his ability to play in space are excellent, but the pass-rush skills are what put him over the top.
We don’t know what the Browns will do if Mack is available, but it almost seems like a Draft Day/Kevin Costner kind of scenario. Maybe the Browns would look at Mack as their Vontae Mack -- a guy simply too good to pass up.
The fact that their names are the same is pure coincidence.