ALAMEDA -– Khalil Mack wore No. 46 in college for a reason. It was his player rating in the “NCAA Football 10” video game during his redshirt season, a reminder of humble athletic beginnings.
Now, it’s a sign of how far he’s come. The “NCAA Football 13” considered him an 87.
That was before he earned 100 tackles as a redshirt senior, including 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. That was before he skyrocketed up draft boards, well before he was taken No. 5 overall by the Raiders in Thursday’s opening round of the NFL draft.
While video game ratings certainly don’t define a player, it illustrates the journey of an unheralded player recruited by just one FBS school to an elite college prospect.
Many have said Mack has a chip on his shoulder. Like most top athletes, their competitive drive often comes from a perceived slight. The 46 player rating served its purpose well.
“I’m a competitive guy, but just knowing that that 46 hurt at the time,” Mack said. “Being a freshman, coming into my redshirt freshman year, we had guys that cared about those stats and those different things. I just wanted to go out and prove that I could be effective in any way of the game. I just go out and play football in any way I can. That’s the way that I think.”
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has brought in free agents and draftees alike with added motivation to prove people wrong. He believes that’s a sign of a good football player, someone who wants to work and want to win.
“When you watch Khalil play, he plays the game like it’s supposed to be played,” McKenzie said. “He plays hard, he plays physical, and he goes from snap to whistle. You can call it a chip on your shoulder, or you can just call it being a football player. That’s the kind of football player we want to bring in to our team and our locker room. We want to surround the Justin Tuck’s and the Marcel Reece’s, Khalil Mack’s, we want all those type of players. They all know what they’re here for. We’re all on the same page. We want football players in that locker room, in every sense.”
The Raiders got one in Mack, who continues to improve mentally and physically. He entered college at 215 pounds. The workout junkie is now 251 pounds of toughness.
“The guy has the size, he has the length, he’s got speed,” McKenzie said. “He’s a playmaker. We’ll find a way to put him on the field and get some production out of him. That Ohio State game (tape in 2013) was just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Raiders believe Mack has room to improve. Right now Mack uses speed and power to rush the passer. Increased pass-rushing technique could help him be more efficient at the pro level.
He’ll continue football work as No. 52 –- 46 isn’t allowed for linebackers in the NFL -– though he wouldn’t say specifically why. Maybe it’s in honor of Ray Lewis, maybe it’s something else. Number aside, Mack says he’s committed to improving on what he’s already accomplished.
“There are certain things that you have to do as a football player to make sure that you play fundamentally sound and use the right technique and play with your hands and do it every day and do it every time you go on the field and be consistent,” Mack said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to doing. I’m looking forward to being more consistent as a football player and getting better. Working with some of the veteran guys in the NFL, and I’m excited.”