Khalil Mack is one of professional football’s premier superstars. The current face of the Bears. One of the most recognizable household names in the NFL. As a man who humbles 350-pound men for a living, he’s the primary reason Chicago remains relevant in the national picture. These are all controversial statements laced with a healthy blasphemy, of course. Please, please don’t email me with your objections and hatred to this opinion.
Why not try to replicate his talent’s and leadership’s impact? Or at least, why not try to emulate even a small part of it?
That seems to be the Bears’ current thought process as they add Mack’s younger brother, Ledarius Mack. A fellow former Buffalo standout, the junior Mack, by destination, is literally following in his kin’s footsteps. Perhaps, with patience, the undrafted free agent may be able to match some of his brother’s countless accolades.
1. A two-year contributor, Mack shined in his last season with Buffalo. How did the Bulls coax out this kind of production from him? How would you describe his progression as an amateur?
Tim Riordan: I don’t know what went on behind the scenes to get Mack’s numbers (24 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles) up so high this past season. But if you watch his play during the first season he played with Buffalo, it’s obvious the ability was there.
Mack was a major part of the special teams unit in 2018. When he got on the field with the defense he made his presence felt. It was only a matter of time he would bring a similar element to that side of the ball. The Big Thing to remember about Mack is that, unlike his brother, he had little experience when he came to Buffalo: He was all raw talent and a little piece of lower level coaching. I’m sure the Bulls’ coaches worked hard to try and hone that talent into what we saw last year.
Once he had Buffalo system down pat, it was simply a matter of pointing him in the direction of the quarterback. The rest took care of itself.
2. What are Mack’s strengths and weaknesses as a player? Where is he a few steps ahead, and where could he stand to improve if he’s going to make it in the NFL?
TR: The only slight knock I have on Mack is that he over pursues. That could be a problem against an NFL-caliber quarterback with average legs. But let’s be honest, Aaron Rodgers at this stage of his career is not going to outrun him.
Mack’s strength is his physical power and that his motor never stops running. I’ve never seen him give up on a play, which led to a lot of quality clean-ups. I’ll add that he is very adept at swiping for the ball when making contact and bring a player down. Not many players have that kind of quick-twitch awareness in a flash. (That should sound familiar to readers.)
His biggest challenge in the NFL is going to be his size. A 6-foot-1 edge rusher is going to have a difficult time against tackles with longer arms and better discipline. But the guy is athletic, strong, and has proven he will contribute wherever you put him. He may well find a way to overcome his limitations soon enough.
Finding a way to factor on special teams while he works as a depth defensive player sounds like the path to travel initially.
3. Mack is following the path of his acclaimed and celebrated brother every step of the way from high school, to college, to the NFL. What, that you’ve seen, makes Ledarius similar to Khalil? What differentiates the two as prospects coming out (aside from production)? What could his older brother stand to teach him?
TR: Physically the Mack brothers are very similar, with their height (6-foot-3 to 6-foot-1) being the only sizable difference. They have the same motor and the same power, but Ledarius is more raw than Khalil was when he graduated from Buffalo in 2014. That should play a factor in his initial development.
Both are incredibly based people. Khalil Mack had one issue in four years at Buffalo and it was a fight on the field with another player during the heat of summer camp. Ledarius, by comparison, never had any problems.
The younger Mack is going to show up at camp, and he’s not going to feel entitled to anything by association. There’s no attached baggage in the slightest.
4. For the time being, the Bears don’t have any holes on the edge. The prospect of having the senior Mack and Robert Quinn paints such a picture. Is there a scenario in your mind where the younger Mack finds a way to contribute immediately, or is he more of a project?
TR: He will be solid on special teams but he’s raw. I wouldn’t call him a “project” as such. But I could see the staff trying to mold him. Maybe he comes off the edge and into the middle linebacker type role, where his height won’t be present as much of an issue.
When I saw the Bears sign him I was happy that he ended up with his brother. But I’ve seen the Chicago defense: It’s solid from top to bottom. It will be a real climb for any undrafted free agent, let alone a sibling of the best player, to make the final roster.
5. What’s one personal story or anecdote that captures the heart of the younger Mack’s time with Buffalo?
TR: The entire story about how Ledarius ended up at Buffalo shows he already had the mentality of a mature professional three years ago.
Buffalo initially took a pass on him, and Khalil wasn’t thrilled. He had tweeted that UB was missing out on something great and the fan community lost it. After the dust settled the Buffalo coaching staff offered him a scholarship and he showed up and went to work. He let that be the end of any past issues and did nothing but give his absolute best for the coaches moving forward.
During the first season he played, when he was essentially a glorified special teams and depth player, he was constantly referred to as “Khalil Mack’s little brother.” But by the time his senior season had passed, he had made a name of his own at Buffalo. Not an easy task for anyone by any means.
Follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.