ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland Raiders found the pass rusher they wanted when they selected Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
Mack shot up the draft rankings with a stellar senior season at Buffalo in the Mid-American conference, posting 10 1/2 sacks in his final year at college.
Mack made scouts take notice early in the season when he had nine tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in a loss to Ohio State.
Mack won the Jack Lambert Award and finished second to Alabama’s C.J. Mosley in the Butkus Award voting — both honoring the nation’s top linebackers. He set a conference record with 16 career forced fumbles. His 75 career tackles for a loss were the most at the NCAA level since 2000.
At 6-foot-2 and 251 pounds, Mack is touted to have the speed, strength and versatility to play any linebacker position. At the NFL combine in February, Mack topped linebacker prospects in four of six categories: the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.18 seconds), vertical jump (40 inches) and broad jump (128 inches).
General manager Reggie McKenzie has been unable to draft a star in two years at the helm in Oakland and is under severe pressure to bring in impact players as part of a rebuilding effort after the team posted back-to-back four-win seasons in his first two years.
McKenzie spent much of the offseason upgrading the roster with veteran free agent signings and a trade for quarterback Matt Schaub. But with most of those additions at least 29 years old and likely on the downside of their careers, Mack is expected to be one of the major building blocks in ending a 10-year playoff drought.
Oakland also has its own picks high in rounds two, three and four and three seventh-round picks. The Raiders traded this year’s fifth-round choice for quarterback Matt Flynn, who was released last season after being unable to beat Terrelle Pryor out for the starting job. The sixth-rounder went to Houston in March in the deal for Schaub.
This marked Oakland’s first top five draft pick since selecting running back Darren McFadden fourth overall in 2008. The Raiders traded down from the No. 3 pick a year ago to select cornerback D.J. Hayden with the 12th pick and also got a second-round pick from Miami that turned into offensive lineman Menelik Watson.
Hayden and Watson both contributed little as rookies as they were hampered by injuries for most of the season. Hayden was limited in the offseason and most of training camp as he recovered from heart surgery that nearly ended his career. Hayden played eight games and looked overmatched at times before he underwent season-ending groin surgery.
Watson entered the NFL as a raw talent with only one year of experience in junior college and one year at Florida State. Watson was limited to five games because of a variety of injuries and was mostly used as a sixth offensive lineman in certain formations.