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The Film Room: Khalil Mack Is The Next Great Pass Rusher

I wrote about Khalil Mack today. Since he was drafted after Jadeveon Clowney, and since he was a potential pick at 1.1, and since the plays I depicted came against Houston, and since you guys love me so much and want to read everything I write, I thought I'd pass it along to ya'll.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For the past two years, there was a singular name ringing out through the high school halls of NFL draft talk. "CLOW-NEY" would echo off lockers, and through Mrs. McCarty's AP English class, talk radio, television sets, slideshows, and mock drafts everywhere. Jadeveon Clowney was claimed to be a freak athlete whose physical ability was not bounded by time, space, or the laws of physics that hinder us mortals. He was a creature unlike any other ever to be seen on a Saturday afternoon.  For two straight seasons, Clowney was penciled in as the number one pick in the NFL draft. Not even a "redshirt" junior year and injury concerns could weaken the bellows of Clowney's cacophony. Then the 2014 NFL Combine happened.

At the Combine, one player began to quell some of the blood-thirsty #CLOWNEYWANT.  Aplayer who received only one FBS football scholarship offer, a player who demolished MACtion at the University of Buffalo, a player named Khalil Mack. At the run real fast and jump really high in your underwear competition, Mack posted the following measurements.

40 Yd Dash
4.65 seconds
Bench (225)
23 reps
40.0 inches
128 inches
20 Yd Shuffle
4.18 seconds
3 Cone Drill
7.08 seconds
Arm Length
33 1/4"
251 pounds

This performance went along with his college stats

Tackles for a Loss
75 (1st in NCAA)
Forced Fumbles
16 (1st in NCAA)
Passes Defended

He was heralded  as the 2014 SackSeer Champion, a model built by Football Outsiders to project the number of sacks a defensive end or edge rusher will accrue through their first five seasons, and projected him to have 38.9 sacks, or 8.7 more than the once-in-a-generation-can't-miss prospect. The analysis also claimed him to be even freakier than the freakiest freak in the entire country:

It may sound crazy, but SackSEER actually likes Mack’s Combine workout better than Clowney’s. Clowney had a faster forty-yard dash (4.53 seconds versus 4.63 seconds), but Mack bested Clowney in the vertical leap, the broad jump, and crushed him in the three-cone. It is true that Clowney is bigger than Mack, but based on Combine weigh-ins, Clowney is only 15 pounds heavier than Mack -— bigger, but not so big as to offset Mack’s other advantages. Clowney may be a freak athlete, but putting Mack’s entire workout (and not just his forty-yard dash) in historical context, Mack is as freaky as Clowney, if not freakier.

Moreover, Mack’s stats for the Buffalo Bulls suggest that he is not so much a man, but rather, a vortex where offensive plays go to die. Mack holds the all-time FBS record for forced fumbles (16) and ties the all-time record for tackles for loss (75). To top it off, Mack had four interceptions and 24 passes broken up. The NCAA doesn’t track defeats, but with over one hundred combined tackles for loss and passes defensed, Mack would likely have the all-time record if it did.

Once the dead period between the Pro Days and the NFL Draft arrived, rumblings started to bellow from the pre-draft volcano. Mike Mayock claimed that he would take Khalil Mack over Jadeveon Clowney and oozed and gushed over his game tape against Ohio State. Additionally, there were even rumors that Houston Texans' GM Rick Smith preferred Mack to Clowney. Hoopla and grumbles aside, the Houston Texans took Clowney with the number one pick.  Khalil Mack was taken with the fifth pick by the Oakland Raiders.

Through the first two weeks of the regular season, Mack and Clowney have had completely opposite results. Clowney was injured after playing twenty-three snaps against the Washington Redskins and suffering a knee injury; he is expected to miss two to four more weeks. Mack, on the other hand, has been productive and has potential oozing out of every stitch of his silver and black uniform. So far this season Mack has put up the following numbers:

QB Hits
QB Hurries
Batted Passes

Regardless of the lack of sacks filling the box score, Mack has been one of the few bright spots on the dust farting, old man Oakland defense. In Week Two against Houston, Mack put his potential and production on display against Houston's Pro Bowl left tackle, Duane Brown, and newly improved right tackle Derek Newton.

Quarter 1, 3:52 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster Left Tackle for 1 Yard (Tackle by Khalil Mack).

In the first quarter against the Texans, Houston is lined up in the I-formation and is running a lead play to the left. Right before the snap, Mack stalks closer to the line of scrimmage. On this play, he's not going to be blocked because an outside linebacker playing that far outside shouldn't make a play on the ball. Houston has the peace of mind to leave Mack unblocked without worrying about him terrorizing Arian Foster's zen poetry running style.


Once the ball is snapped, Mack quickly realizes he is unblocked. When the light bulb flicks on, he turns his hips and squeezes himself down the line of scrimmage. If you compare Mack to the rest of the players on the line, he's directly even with them. He doesn't take a fat, lazy angle, or chase into the backfield. He plays with the correct technique and takes a direct route to the back.


The play-side is a mess. Houston's offensive line was unable to move the line of scrimmage, so what we have is a goulash of bodies. Now the wild man screaming from the back-side has a chance to make a play, despite the fact he is coming from another hemisphere.


Mack comes in and gets credited with a tackle on Arian Foster.



This may seem like a trivial play, which it is in the grand scheme of the game.  What's important is that it displays Mack's speed and acceleration in an unblocked, vacuum on the field.

Quarter 2, 12:54 Remaining.  Result: Ryan Fitzpatrick Pass Complete Short Middle to Andre Johnson for 14 Yards.

Following a 65 yard interception return by Kareem Jackson, Houston comes out in a shotgun formation to throw the ball on first down. Foster is lined up on the right-side of the backfield, so Houston's offensive line has a "Lucky" call (Houston's left side of the line is going to shift one gap over, the center to the "A", the left guard to the "B" and the left tackle to the "C"). This lines up Mack in a one on one match-up against Texans offensive line staple, Duane Brown (#76).


Once the ball is snapped, Mack jumps out of his two-point stance. Yes, this is a picture, but you can still see the quickness of Mack's get off below. He's in the middle of his second step before Lamaar Woodley finishes his first step. Mack has nearly taken two steps by the time Fitzpatrick catches the snap.


Mack comes at a tight angle aiming for Brown's inside shoulder. Most young pass rushers have one pass rush move they rely on. Whether it's a swim, a spin, a rip on the outside shoulder, or a bull rush, they will beat it into the ground until their skill improves and they better understand how to play the game.

Mack is not like this. He can rip, speed rush, and swim with ease. He can also attack either the outside or the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Right now his head is lined up with the red seven on Brown's jersey and his left foot is planted in the ground.


Brown thinks Mack is going to take an inside route, so he goes to deliver his punch. Mack has other ideas. He bounces off his left foot to the outside shoulder and dodges Brown's attack like like a maniacal matador. Brown usually has perfect technique when he delivers his punch, but here he is with his head over his toes, about to tip over.


Mack gets around Brown. Like the previous play, Mack instantly flattens himself to the line of scrimmage by turning his hips towards the quarterback like a mouse slipping underneath a door. When rushing the passer, every tenth of a second is precious.  Every step the defender wastes just gives the quarterback more time to throw the ball. A long lazy angle leads to clean pockets. Mack has exceptional balance and can easily turn his momentum towards the quarterback instead of allowing it to carry him up field.


Brown is able to recover some, but Mack is too fast for his touch to dissuade him at all.


In the previous image, Mack had a perfect angle to Fitzpatrick.  Now the Texans' quarterback has stepped up into the pocket. Mack now begins to chase him in the pocket as if he's a cheetah going after a gazelle.


Before Mack can deliver a hit, Fitzpatrick is able to complete a pass to the always open Andre Johnson.


Quarter 2, 11:45 Remaining.  Result: Jonathan Grimes for -2 Yards (Tackle by Sio Moore).

The previous two plays depicted Mack's speed, acceleration, and fluidity. This play shows his brute strength.

Houston is running power from the shotgun to the left end of the line. The guard and tackle on the left side will have a "Deuce" block (double team between to the guard and tackle) to the back-side linebacker.  The right guard, Brandon Brooks (#79) will pull around to the play-side linebacker, Sio Moore (#55). As far as Mack is concerned, he is matched up one on one with Ryan Griffin (TE #84).


Griffin takes a slide step to the left to cover Mack and delivers a hit to his sternum. Mack reacts quickly. He bunkers low and has his hands up to match Griffin's punch.


In the last image, you can see that Griffin was going to deliver his punch first, which he should because he knows the snap count. But here Mack has exploded his hands into the numbers on Griffin's jersey to separate from the tight end. Mack simply out hits him. Griffin isn't the best blocker, but it's rare to see an outside linebacker gain ground on an offensive player this quickly.


Now they are playing mercy. Mack is low, has his hips bent, and is driving Griffin backwards.


Mack is now looking into the backfield. He sees Foster behind the glob of bodies. He is strong enough to hold Griffin up with one arm up so he can separate quickly if Foster is able to break from the horde and bounce the run into the inside gap.


Foster escapes and Mack understands he's going outside. He knows Foster is too quick for him to be able to shed inside to make a tackle. Additionally, he's responsible to hold the edge and cover the "C" gap.


Mack takes his right arm to shove Griffin to the left, and then uses his left hand to rip underneath. All Griffin can do is grab Mack's shoulder pads so he doesn't fall over.


Moore is able to make the tackle before Mack can make a play on Foster.


As long as Mack remains an outside linebacker, he is going to usually end up going against offensive tackles in the pass game and tight ends in the run game. He has the speed to run past offensive tackles and the strength to set the edge and drive tight ends into the backfield like on this play. Mack has the strength and speed to not only be a great pass rusher, but a great run stopper as well.

Quarter 2, 4:01 Remaining.  Result: Arian Foster Left Tackle for 5 Yards (Tackle by Tyvon Branch).

If you were already impressed by Mack's get-off before, you might as well spare yourself the hassle and leave your jaw on the floor.  It's only going to plummet off the hinges again.

On this play, the Texans are running the zone stretch that made Arian Foster a rich man during the Kubiak Era. Each offensive lineman is going to take a zone step to the left and make blocks depending on whether the lineman is covered or uncovered. Houston has two tight ends on the line of scrimmage, and both are on the left side of the line. Mack is lined up as a "6i" on the inside shoulder of the second tight end (#88 Garrett Graham).


Here you can see the zone steps. The two tight ends have a combo block on Mack. The second tight end is supposed to punch the outside shoulder of Mack and head to the safety. He's just trying give the first tight end (#84 Ryan Griffin) enough help so he can make his block.


Mack sees the zone steps and does what he's supposed to--flow to where the play is going and stay in his gap. He takes two steps to the right and attacks the gap between the tight ends. These two steps make it even harder for the first tight end to get his head on Mack's outside shoulder.


The chasm between the tight ends allows Mack to slip on through. He lowers his hips and explodes through the space between them. Mack is going against two players and neither one of them can even get a helmet on him.


Right after Foster gets the snap, Mack is three yards into the backfield. All the first tight end can do (#84) is hold onto the back of him.


Griffin keeps shoving the back of him, which prevents him from tackling Foster in the backfield.



A holding flag is thrown on Ryan Griffin for the block he made on Mack.


Khalil is explosive, and it's seen in this play. He's able to split a double team in a flash and get into the backfield just after the running back gets the ball. This entire play is just a testament to his insane athleticism.

Quarter 3, 9:18 Remaining.  Result: Ryan Fitzpatrick Pass Incomplete Short Right to DeAndre Hopkins.

This last play of the bunch is my favorite. Again, Houston's offensive line has a lucky call, so Brown will slide into the "C" gap and will block Mack one on one. Mack is lined up in a "jet" technique, which just means he is playing wide off the line of scrimmage. There's an ocean between him and the defensive tackle. Brown knows that Mack is going to be at full speed by the contact is made. When tackles are in this situation, they tend to play sloppier, rush themselves, and overextend in an attempt to cover ground quicker.


Brown is already nervous when it comes to Mack's speed. He's taking an enormous first step in effort to kick slide over faster.


The fear of Mack's speed is seen again in this image. Brown's feet are close together and his base narrower than it usually is. This is because of the long steps that he's taken. Rather than taking shorter, rapid, choppier steps, Brown hurries himself and takes elongated steps that bring his feet together. Just like the first play, Mack is square with Brown. He doesn't show which way he's going until the very last moment. Any subtle movement, like the drop of a shoulder or the turn of a hip, can display to the lineman what the defensive player intends to do.


Contact is about to be made.  Mack plants his right foot into the ground and steps with his left one towards the inside. Brown should be making contact at this point in time.


Brown goes to punch, but he's too late. Mack has already passed his shoulder. He hits air and ends up stumbling forward. This play looks similar to the first one, but the big difference is that Mack has taken an inside route rather than an outside one. When an edge rusher can mix up his moves and routes and combine it with elite athleticism, you end up with offensive tackles overextending out of fear and blocking air.


Mack uses his right hand to separate himself from Brown for good measure. Additionally, he has a perfect angle to get to Ryan Fitzpatrick.



Houston's quarterback is just barely able to get the ball away and tosses it lamely into the corner of the end zone. Consequently, Mack has yet to record a sack and Houston has yet to allow one.



Khalil Mack is already showing signs of becoming the next great pass rusher. He's not only fluid, fast, and strong, but he's skilful as well. He knows how to rush inside or outside.  He can rip, swim, and juke to get around offensive linemen in the pass game. In the run game, he has the strength and get-off to set the edge to along with the intelligence on how to read the play. He's going to be great because of his athleticism and his ability to play the game.

It's only been two weeks, but for a player to be this young and have this level of skill and insane athletic ability means one thing, STARDOM. J.J. Watt floods commercials every Sunday telling you to play fantasy football on Yahoo!, DeMarcus Ware gets to stomp the ground and yell in the introduction to Sunday Night Football, Peyton Manning gets to sell Buicks, and one day Khalil Mack will get the chance to display his face in advertisements and see his name on All-Pro rosters. It's a near certainty Khalil Mack is going to be a Von Miller-esque edge rusher.  He could possibly become the once-in-a-generation pass rusher the man taken before him is touted to be.

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