Mack attack: the case for Khalil Mack to go No. 1 overall

By JORDAN GROSSMAN
On April 27, 2014

The Houston Texans made history for all the wrong reasons in 2013: 14 consecutive losses after a 2-0 start to the season.

With inadequate defense and disappointing quarterback play, the Texans finished with the worst record in the league after two straight playoff appearances.

With the worst record come certain privileges, however, like the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, which will be held on May 8 in New York City. The Texans have a lot to consider in just a few short weeks.

Some might believe the Texans' biggest need is a quarterback after they traded Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders during the early stages of the offseason. This year's draft, however, doesn't have the standout, franchise-building quarterbacks of the previous draft classes.

The popular opinion is that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in the draft. Clowney is known for his freakish physical attributes, highlighted by his vicious hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl when he was only a sophomore.

Clowney's work ethic has been the question, however. Steve Spurrier, his college coach, described his worth ethic as just "OK." There are reports he skipped mandatory team workouts and took plays off last season. He had just three sacks in 2013 after having 13 as a sophomore. Is a player that skips mandatory workouts and takes plays off worthy of a No. 1 overall selection?

There is a better option for the Texans at this desired first spot: former Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.

Mack is an anomaly. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he has the strength to rush the quarterback and the quickness to drop back into the secondary. He has the tools to change an entire defense. No one who has watched Mack play would question that his work ethic, unlike Clowney. The biggest concern against Mack is the competition he faced in college.

Mack feasted against Mid-American Conference opponents throughout his four years in Buffalo. When you have the option between a linebacker from a mid-major conference or a defensive end that dominated in the countries' toughest conference - the Southeastern Conference (SEC) - most teams would choose the latter. Some might say a team should not draft a player from the MAC with the No. 1 overall pick. But it is not unprecedented.

The Kansas City Chiefs selected Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher first overall last year in the 2013 NFL Draft.

For any skeptics that don't believe in Mack's skills, watch the Bulls' game against Ohio State. I wasn't completely sold on Mack's NFL prospects at first, but the Ohio State game changed my perspective. Mack was able to manhandle one of the best offenses in the country, finishing with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown against the then No. 2 team in the nation.   

Mack has the tools to be not only the first overall pick, but can be one of the best linebackers in the NFL in a few years. Although there is a plethora of talent in this year's draft class, the Texans would be wise to select Mack over any other player.

Mack would fit well on the Texans' defense, playing along with Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing and former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.  With uncertainty at the quarterback position in this year's draft class, the Texans should instead restore their defense to the level of play we have seen in year's past with the selection of Mack.

The quest to find a franchise quarterback is a painstaking process. Some front offices look to sign a proven veteran, like Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Most teams, however, look to find their man in the draft.

Since 2000, 10 of the 13 first overall selections have been a quarterback. While that list includes two-time Super bowl winner Eli Manning, it also includes Oakland Raiders' No. 1 draft pick Jamarcus Russell.

Even in college, Russell's work ethic was questioned and his physical conditioning was not up to par. Isn't there another top prospect with the same concern?

Russell is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. Making the matter worse is that the Raiders passed on some of the best talent the NFL currently has to offer, like San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.

Willis was selected seventh overall in the 2007 draft. Not only was he the first 49er to claim five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances to start a career but he's also been a staple on one of the best defenses in the NFL.

During his senior year at Ole Miss, Willis won the Butkus Award for best linebacker in the nation. Mack finished second in the voting this season.

I'm not saying that the quarterbacks of this draft will bust like Russell, but I do not see them as elite playmakers. A team like the Houston Texans should wait to find the right guy. In the meantime, they could legitimize their defense with the selection of Mack.

Of course, this is all just speculation. None of us know for certain what teams' front offices are thinking or who will be taken with the top pick until the Texans are officially on the clock on May 8 at 8 p.m. But if the Texans are smart, they'll take the player who has proven himself worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.
email: jmgrossm@buffalo.edu


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