NAPA — Khalil Mack is entering the NFL with much more fanfare than he began his college career.
The former two-star recruit who got his only scholarship offer from Buffalo coming out of high school, worked his way into a first-round pick this spring and is being compared to some of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the league before he even puts his pads on for the first time.
Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen likened Mack to Denver star Von Miller, who had 11 1/2 sacks as a rookie when Allen was defensive coordinator for the Broncos in 2011.
Mack welcomes the high expectations and said his goal is to win the defensive rookie of the year award. But he knows he has a long way to go to reach that level.
“I’m starting at the bottom right now,” Mack said. “I’m trying to work my way up. I know I got to get a lot better.”
Mack was awfully good in college where he set an NCAA record with 16 forced fumbles and a modern-day record with 75 tackles for loss. He had 10 1/2 sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries as a senior to vault himself to the No. 5 pick in the draft. The Raiders targeted him from the start of the draft process and were ecstatic about the versatility he can add to the defense after he lasted until their first-round pick in May.
“Well when he was there on the board and when we picked him, there was definitely some drawing going on, some scribbling going on,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said.
“What’s nice about Khalil is he has size and athletic ability, so that he can do some things on the edges of your defense, both in the run game and in the pass game, with his power, his length and his ability to bend and move.”
Mack has quickly impressed his veteran teammates, who marvel at his speed to get around the edge and strength to overpower blockers. But up until now, they have only seen Mack in shorts. The Raiders get to put on the pads for the first time this season today, a day Mack has been waiting for ever since he was drafted.
“I think he’s going to be one of the rookies who makes some big plays and helps the team win this year,” defensive end LaMarr Woodley said. “I can only imagine what that guy can do when he puts shoulder pads on.”