NEW YORK – Khalil Mack isn’t quite sure what to feel right now.
One minute the nerves kick in, the next it’s excitement.
As for how he’ll react tonight, when his name is called in the first round of the NFL Draft – potentially as the first overall pick – the University at Buffalo linebacker isn’t sure about that, either.
“That’s the thing, man. I don’t know yet. I might cry. I might look at my dad and start laughing at him if he’s crying,” Mack said. “It all depends. I’ll go with the flow.”
Don’t think Mack is stressing too much about this whole thing, though. There was nary a moment Wednesday when he didn’t have a smile on his face as he helped kids through drills during the NFL’s Play 60 Youth Football Festival at Chelsea Waterside Park.
Asked what he’s learned during the pre-draft process, Mack made a reference to his new BFF Jadeveon Clowney – the player thought to be the favorite to be picked first overall.
“Don’t stand next to Clowney. He got every camera and everybody following him at all times. I can’t walk next to him any more,” Mack said with a beaming smile.
He may not be comfortable in front of the camera, but Mack is ready for his moment in the spotlight tonight.
“Wherever I end up, it doesn’t matter. I want to be the best Khalil Mack I can be when I get there,” he said. “I can’t do anything but be grateful for the opportunity to work with any team.”
Rumors continue to swirl that the Houston Texans could take Mack with the first selection. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has a theory on why that might happen.
“I think that he’s got significant talent – only a very small notch below Clowney talentwise – and I don’t think any of the downside issues, so I love the kid,” he said. “Both of them can play all three downs in any scheme. They’re different body types, they’re different type players, but at the end of the day, they’re both fantastic. I just happen to prefer Mack.”
The main reason Mayock prefers Mack over Clowney is “I don’t think I have to worry about managing him every day for the next five years.”
“I think he’s got an edge about him, I think he plays hard every week,” Mayock said. “I think Clowney has got all kinds of upside, I just think Clowney at times gets comfortable.”
If there is a question about Mack, it’s which defensive scheme – 3-4 or 4-3 – he would fit best.
“As a 4-3 player, my biggest concern is where do you play Khalil Mack? I think he’s an edge player to me,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “When I look at Khalil Mack, he’s most effective on the line of scrimmage as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or as a nickel pass rusher playing the defensive end position.
“In a pure 4-3, I don’t know that you want him as a base defensive end. I think he fits the 3-4 scheme the best in terms of a base outside linebacker, and in the subpackage he’s obviously a defensive end.”
The Texans would be an ideal scheme fit, then. They will run a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel this season.
“I could see myself playing in any spot. It doesn’t matter,” Mack said. “I only want to play football again. Whatever team gives me that opportunity, I’ll be very grateful.”
The possibility of going No. 1 overall is “a blessing,” but Mack has been able to keep it in the proper perspective.
“I still don’t know if No. 1’s a possibility. You never know,” he said. “I’m taking it day by day, trying not to think too much about that. ... I just hope wherever I’m at, I can make them proud.
“This process right here is pretty much the first step. The step after that is the one I’m looking forward to – going out there and proving myself as a football player.”
Mack admitted that the competitor in him wants to be selected first, but that it’s now out of his hands. “That’s one of the things I have to keep reminding myself,” he said.
If there is a rivalry with Clowney, it’s an ultra-friendly one. The pair spent most of the camp laughing and joking, and even did an interview with Sirius NFL Radio together.
“He’s a great guy and I’m going to be happy for him,” Mack said. “All these guys are great guys. I want to see all of them do well.”
Mack spent his morning participating in the football camp along with the other 29 players invited to the draft. Later in the afternoon, they ascended to the top of the marquee at Radio City Music Hall for a photo – during which Mack flashed the “Go Bulls” horn sign.
“I’m thankful to have Buffalo behind me,” he said. “Everybody has been really supporting me.”
Mack said he wasn’t sure what becoming the first-ever player from UB to be drafted in the first round will mean for the program, but sees it as a potential opportunity in recruiting.
“What I do after that will mean the most,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
After the group photo, Mack returned to his midtown hotel, eager to spend some time with his family. His parents, Sandy and Yolanda, joined him here, as did his two brothers, his grandmother, and his high school coach, Waides Ashmon.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and my family,” he said. “I’m happy that they’re here.”
Mack and the rest of the prospects will make a visit to Kravis Children’s Hospital this morning before heading to Radio City. When they arrive at the famed theatre, their first steps toward a lucrative future will be down a red carpet.
Mack might not be sure what he’ll be feeling, but especially with his family in town, he’s found time to reflect on his journey. “Thinking about back in the day, how I loved the game then, and I love it still the same now,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”