Is another Mack on horizon for Browns?
The D’Qwell Jackson era has ended.
Welcome to the Khalil Mack era.
All of a sudden, there’s a huge hole at inside linebacker for the Browns with the release of Jackson and the position, just like that, has rocketed to where it now is at or very near the top of the club’s list of needs. And Mack just might be the guy to fill that hole.
Unless Browns General Manager Ray Farmer is adamant that he’ll draft a quarterback with his first choice, do not be surprised if he thinks seriously of going after the relatively little known linebacker from the University of Buffalo.
Well maybe not little known in college football circles. But playing at Buffalo didn’t exactly expose him to the rest of the nation as he toiled in relative anonymity. Ask Ohio State fans about Mack and they’ll tell you he probably was the best player on the field last August when Buckeyes knocked off Buffalo.
Even though he played a position that didn’t require it as much, he had a nose for the ball. In his four years at Buffalo, he racked up 327 tackles, 28½ sacks, forced 16 fumbles and made three of his four career interceptions last season, including a pick 6 against the Buckeyes.
Mack has soared up the pre-draft lists of many National Football League teams recently to the point where he has landed among the top 10 prospects for the May 8-10 college lottery.
And now that the heart of the Cleveland defense has erected a vacancy sign with Jackson’s departure, Farmer needs someone to bring it back to life. He needs someone like Mack, who can be just the guy to pull it off.
The Cleveland general manager needs someone who can inject life into the middle of his defense. Sort of a Ray Lewis type. You know, the kind of football player who reaches deep down emotionally and inspires his defensive teammates to play beyond their capabilities.
For years, Lewis led the Baltimore Ravens to emotional heights that helped them win two Super Bowls and a number of AFC North championships.
Naysayers might argue that Mack is an outside linebacker and would have trouble making the switch inside. Not necessarily. He has the instincts to work in the middle of the defense and definitely has the body type (6-2½ and 245 pounds) to play inside.
He can give the Cleveland defense something at inside linebacker that it sorely needs: The ability to tackle ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage, not at or near the line of scrimmage. For years we watched Jackson taken out of plays because he wasn’t strong enough to shed opponents.
Jackson was best suited for a 4-3 alignment and prospered in it for two seasons under defensive coordinator Dick Jauron in 2011 and 2012. He struggled somewhat in Ray Rhodes’ 3-4 hybrid scheme last season and that’s the same scheme favored by new coach Mike Pettine.
Based on his collegiate performances, Mack is much stronger at the point of attack. His speed and quickness in the NFL would enable him on occasion to rush the passer in the form of an inside blitz.
Mack is young enough and eager enough to make the switch inside successfully if the Browns select him with the fourth pick of the draft. Yes, the responsibilities are different inside than on the flank. So what. He can adapt. Besides, don’t the Browns already have enough outside linebackers to take care of the pass rush?
Unless he is as dumb as a box of rocks, Mack should have no problem switching to a new position. It’s only a few yards from where he made his reputation in college.
In the grand scheme of things, Jackson’s departure could very well alter Farmer’s approach to the draft. Maybe it already has for all we know. While quarterback is still a priority, there are enough good (not great) quarterbacks where the GM can wait until the second or third round to take one.
Right now, inside linebacker just might have trumped the need to take a quarterback with the first pick. With the extreme likelihood he’ll be there at No. 4, don’t be surprised if Mack is at least seriously considered, especially if Farmer throws up a few smokescreens along the way and the linebacker’s name is not mentioned.