NFL Nation: Kahlil Mack

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.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesLinebacker Khalil Mack returned this interception for a touchdown against Ohio State.
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?

Why not?

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, 2 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 scouting. 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.
PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL scouting combine is wrapping up Tuesday in Indianapolis. Here’s how some of the players we identified as possible Philadelphia Eagles picks fared in the annual NFL job fair.

Wide receivers

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBrandin Cooks might be out of the Eagles' reach after his fast time in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
Brandin Cooks of Oregon State might have moved up beyond the Eagles’ grasp by running the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. That was the second fastest time overall, behind only running back Dri Archer. Combined with Cooks’ incredible numbers from last season -- 128 catches, 1,730 yards -- the 5-foot-10, 189 pounder likely sealed his first-round status.

Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State was as big as advertised -- 6-5, 240 pounds. His 40 time of 4.61 wasn’t especially impressive, but did we mention he’s 6-5?

Odell Beckham Jr., the LSU wideout projected to the Eagles in Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent (pre-combine) mock draft Insider, ran a 4.43. That increases his added value as a possible return man.

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, who goes 6-3, 212 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.46, and also impressed by doing 21 bench press reps. Receivers don’t have to lift bales of hay, but upper-body strength helps when blocking or trying to get off the line against press coverage.

Edge rushers

Dee Ford, the Auburn defensive end projected to the Eagles by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, proclaimed himself a better player than Jadeveon Clowney, then did not participate in drills because of a medical issue. Ford said he was told not to work out because of a 2011 back injury. You have to wonder if that concern will drop Ford on draft boards.

Anthony Barr of UCLA is considered the second best outside linebacker prospect after Buffalo’s Kahlil Mack. The Eagles would only have a shot at Barr if he slipped a bit. His disappointing bench press result (15 reps) probably wasn’t enough to overshadow his 4.66 speed. (Mack ran a 4.65 and did 23 reps.)

Stanford’s Trent Murphy worked out with the linebackers, not the defensive linemen, and remains an intriguing option for the Eagles. The 6-5, 250-pound Murphy ran a 4.86.

Defensive backs

The top two safeties, Lousiville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, ran identical 40 times of 4.58. They didn’t separate themselves from each other, but the blazing speed at cornerback could potentially sway a DB-needy team or two to go that route and drop the safeties a few spots.

Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State is one of those corners. Gilbert ran a 4.35 Tuesday. At 6-0, 202 pounds, that gives him an enviable combination of size and speed.

Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard was projected to the Eagles Insider by Todd McShay. After running a 4.42, the 5-11, 199-pound Dennard might also have moved up beyond the No. 22 spot.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have their latest mock drafts out, and they’re in agreement on who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take at No. 7.

Kiper and McShay have the Bucs choosing Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. But unless the Bucs are planning to convert Mack into a defensive end, I don’t think this would be a good move. The Bucs already have one star at outside linebacker in Lavonte David, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to invest a lot more in this area.

Personally, I think the Bucs should go with Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. He’d be a natural fit opposite Adrian Clayborn. The addition of a pass-rushing defensive end might be all that separates the Bucs from having an elite defense.

If Ealy isn’t there or the Bucs want to go in another direction, I easily can see them taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The offensive line wasn’t very good last season and needs some new talent.

Of course, there’s another scenario that’s at least a possibility. The new regime has been saying nice things so far about quarterback Mike Glennon. But it remains to be seen if the Bucs are content to go with Glennon. If they have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr, they might not be able to pass on a quarterback.

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