INDIANAPOLIS — Khalil Mack is the kind of dude who’ll acknowledge a snub by wearing it with honor.
Take his No. 46, for instance.
Mack’s jersey symbolizes one of his harshest assessments.
The linebacker from Fort Pierce, Fla., received a single Division I scholarship offer. So he went to the University at Buffalo with vengeance on his mind. Any perceived slight was motivation for him.
Overlooked as he was, nobody figured he was much of a player.
A video game showed him that.
“The NCAA game, the first one that came out, I was rated a 46 overall,” Mack said with a grin Saturday afternoon at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I had, like, a 37 speed.
“It was a slap in the face, man, because I knew deep down in my heart I was better than a 46.”
The best rating for a player in a video game usually is 99.
When it comes to the NFL draft May 8, the lowest score is the best. Some believe Mack will be a single-digit selection. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Friday he would take Mack first overall.
“Mike Mayock’s the man,” Mack said. “I want to prove him right. I’m working hard. I’ve been working hard this past five, six weeks. I’m ready to grind and get out there and work out.”
Mack measured 6-3½ and 251 pounds at the combine. He will go through drills Monday in Lucas Oil Stadium. Mack declined to share his goals for the various tests, including the 40-yard dash.
Scouts are breathlessly awaiting Mack’s results. He’s a freakish athlete who’s expected to do nothing but underscore his elite status in this year’s draft class.
What a ride it has been from Westwood High, where he impressed almost zero colleges, to UB. At first, Division I-AA Liberty University made the only offer, and a partial one at that.
But, eureka for UB, then-coach Turner Gill hired Liberty assistant Robert Wimberly to coach linebackers. Wimberly told Gill about Mack.
UB extended a scholarship opportunity. Mack took it and ran – over and through opponents.
“I can’t think about the what’s ifs,” Mack said of all the happenstance involved in his journey, “even though I’m blessed to be in the position that I’m in. I feel like it was God’s will that I ended up in Buffalo.
“People always ask me, ‘From Florida to Buffalo? Why?’ It was God’s will, man. I feel that he placed me there, and I’m in the position I’m in now because of him.”
Miserable opponents have seen the 46 on the front of Mack’s jersey trucking straight for them and occasionally the 46 on the back of his jersey pulling away in the other direction.
He recorded 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for losses, three interceptions (two of them returned for touchdowns) five forced fumbles and three recoveries last year.
The game most NFL scouts point to was against Ohio State, an indicator Mack didn’t feast merely on Mid-American Conference competition. Mack made a game-high nine tackles with 2.5 sacks and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown in Columbus.
“I got a lot of single blocks,” Mack said. “It just so happened I played off a cut block and got an interception. There were a lot of things that played into my favor that game – by luck, I guess you could say.
“I feel like it was sort of a little bit of disrespect there from a schematic approach. At the same time, I wanted to make them pay for it.”
These few days will be heady for Mack. He probably will interview with every NFL team, but he didn’t want to reveal which ones he has spoken with already.
Mack said he’d be comfortable playing linebacker or a down-lineman position, rushing from the edge out of a three-point stance. He claimed he has no preference and doesn’t want to limit his options by focusing on one role over another.
For the record, the Buffalo Bills don’t have anybody on their roster who wears No. 46.
“Hard work pays off,” Mack said. “It’s been a grind. I didn’t stop working. I wanted to keep getting better, and I knew that 46 would at least rise a couple points over the years.”