The pre-NFL Draft talk is filled "if-s" that are at times unfair, if not bizarre. When a prospect has off-field or injury issues, he gets painted with the "Red Flag" moniker, and it doesn't wear off until he proves himself in his first NFL season. The oddest red flag I've read about has to do with a player's projected ceiling. I'm not talking about a lack of a "ceiling" here though, but instead players who have so refined their game at the college level some draft scout begin to wonder if what they're seeing is all that there is? Two players in the upcoming NFL Draft in May have this weird - and to my mind, idiotic - problem: Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, and Buffalo's Khalil Mack.
Let's be clear here: NFL scouts search for players who excel at their positions. They want to see a player who knows things, like football savvy, footwork, pursuit angle, and the like. So when scouts find a prospect - with all these juicy attributes - they begin to wonder if he's too good at some point? Eeeek! I think it's fair to ponder whether a player is simply a good college player; incapable of making the leap to the NFL level. But there's a paranoia line being crossed here few can deny.
In a recent article by retired NFL defensive end Stephen White, he tickles the edge of "Just too good at everything" madness when it comes to Khalil Mack.
"The question when it comes to top NFL Draft prospects is not just "how good are you today?", it is also and maybe more importantly "how good in five to 10 years?"
It's why so many folks eye potential more so than production. I can't say one way or the other whether that is the right approach; I can just tell you that, for the most part, this is the approach for many teams."
I'm not a fan of statistics for the most part, but some numbers are hard to turn away from when they're glaring. Watch the videos below if you want, but it's the title pages which should intrigue you the most. It's inevitable to compare different players, and the elephant in the room this 2014 NFL Draft is Jadeveon Clowney. Look at the contrasting statistics between the two. If they both played in the same college football conference, would anyone be thinking of taking Clowney over Mack? Be honest, the answer is no, and you know it. But they didn't, so the competition question comes into play. Mack's team did play against some good teams, but no where near the every week competition found in the SEC. When he did face a top rated opponent - like Ohio State - Mack was a one man wrecking crew. Clowney didn't put up great numbers against any opponent in 2013 - not a single one - but his ceiling as a player has morphed and risen to amazing heights, regardless of his own small string of red flags for other issues.
All Khalil Mack has done during his college career is excel in every game he's played in, and refined his game to the very peak of what a linebacker should be... So his stock drops because an NFL Scout can't see how he can get any better at the next level? Er... Uh... Right?
Draft day speculation will drive NFL fans nuts until the first pick is called this May at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Houston - holders of the #1 overall pick - has quite a dilemma on their hands. Quarterback poor, they need to decide if the likes of Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel are franchise signal callers. If not, they need to decide if Jadeveon Clowney is the guy who can change their destiny after a woeful 2013 season. If I look at the Texans' roster, I find it the height of foolishness for them to even consider a player like Clowney. For the moment, let's say Clowney will be the "all-world" pass rushing phenom everyone believes he can be. If so, then Houston becomes a terror on every "third and long" situation on defense. Big deal! It doesn't fix their stumbling secondary, or run defense. It doesn't help their offense in the running or passing game. What it gives them is quarterback sack numbers, and that's it. Houston may have a fearsome defensive front, and I won't deny how important this can be in the NFL. But taking a player like Khalil Mack not only gives them heightened quarterback pressure, it improves both run and pass coverage. Can Clowney cover athletic NFL tight ends? Maybe, but here's where the "projected talent" thing comes back into play, and the lines of reason begin to blur between wishful thinking and reality.
Mack is the kind of player who will change an ENTIRE defense, not just a single stat line. Plus, you get a player who'll add to the team atmosphere so coveted in the NFL. Watch his interviews, then compare them to Clowney's. Mack shows me a young guy who loves the game of football. Clowney shows me a player who loves himself, and counts on his athletic skill set to set aside other concerns. He's asking NFL scouts to believe more than he's shown in college, and they seem to be buying in. That's fine, but wearing blinders - seeing only NFL Combine and year old game footage prowess - is a mistake Houston just can't afford.
Khalil Mack is the guy who I'd love to see the St. Louis Rams pick somewhere in the first round. Yes, I'd take Mack over Clowney, and do so in a heart beat. It's Mack that'll take a team from being an also-ran to winner. If you covet stat lines more than winning, by all means select Clowney. But here's the thing: I'll bet Mack's tackle totals will exceed those of Clowney every year during their playing careers. I'll bet Mack won't be in the news for slighting his coaches or teammates, but Clowney will. Ego drives the star defensive end from South Carolina, while passion for the game of football is at the core of Mack's heart.
When I watch footage of Khalil Mack, is see a bit of Harry Carson, and more than a smig of Lawrence Taylor - sans the drug addled haze and fondness for under age hookers - at times too. These two former New York Giant greats lead their team's defense, and found their way into the NFL Hall of Fame. Mack has every tool, and all the desire to lead an NFL team. I can't say the same for Clowney, and neither can anyone else IF they're being honest with themselves...