Khalil Mack was too focused to notice that a crowd had formed.
Not just any crowd, either.
General managers and head coaches were among representatives of all 32 NFL teams who gathered inside the Buffalo Bills’ field house Tuesday morning for the University at Buffalo’s Pro Day.
Mack was undoubtedly the main attraction. Even though his show lasted just 4½ seconds, nobody left disappointed.
That was the consensus time it took Mack to run the 40-yard dash, cementing his status as a top-10 selection in the first round of May’s NFL Draft.
“That’s a blessing,” Mack said when told that every NFL team was represented. “It felt good being out here, especially on a field I’ve practiced on a couple times throughout my career. It felt like home.”
Mack ran the 40 and went through a positional workout Tuesday, choosing to stand on his results from the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis in other drills.
“I knew I wanted to do the 40 coming in after the combine. Based on the time that I had, I knew it was important for me and my confidence to go back out and try to get under 4.6, which I knew I’m capable of doing,” said Mack, who ran an official 4.65 in Indianapolis. “I decided to do the drills because you can always get work in, especially if there’s 32 teams watching. Then they can get to see what you can do.”
One veteran scout reportedly had Mack timed as low as 4.45 seconds, but most other stopwatches had him anywhere between 4.53 and 4.55.
Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine and Bills General Manager Doug Whaley were among NFL personnel from teams with top-10 picks who watched Mack work out.
“He’s as advertised. He’s not just a guy that looks the part,” said Pettine, the former Bills’ defensive coordinator. “He’s an explosive athlete. He’s had production – one of his best games was against Ohio State – that’s something you have to factor into it. This is a rare guy.”
“It just perpetuates what most people think about him. He’s an explosive player that has range and speed,” Whaley said. “You see it on tape, and this just confirms it. I’m happy for the guy. I’m happy for UB.”
Mack said he’s tried to block out any of the talk about where – and how high – he’ll be drafted.
“I don’t try to notice that, you know what I mean? I try to keep that on the back burner,” he said. “I’m still working hard, and that’s what it’s about with me. I don’t focus on the attention toward me, but I’m out here working hard. … I want to continue to get better.”
Mack wasn’t the only former Bulls player to audition before NFL talent evaluators. There were 19 players in all – including 16 from UB – who worked out Tuesday, including late-round draft prospects like running back Branden Oliver and receiver Alex Neutz.
“I’m well pleased. I think some of them thought I wasn’t going to do as good as I did today,” said Oliver, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times and ran the 40 in 4.56 seconds.
Neutz had turned in a solid time of 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but he ended up having to cut short his day after suffering a pulled hamstring during his third running of the 40.
“It was a tough feeling. I spent the past six weeks working my butt off, five hours a day training hard – yoga on my off day, stuff like that – just to get to this position today,” he said. “When you put that much time into one day of training, and you have to shut it down after a couple drills, it’s definitely tough.”
Neutz did 14 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press and broad jumped 9 feet, 9 inches before being hurt. The Grand Island native trained for his pro day at the Parisi Speed School in Downingtown, Pa. He’s planning to return home to Western New York to continue his preparations for the NFL Draft.
“It’s kind of crazy to even be in this position. Be at a pro day, performing like this, because I never dreamed of it. Here I am,” Neutz said. “I’ve heard anywhere from the fifth to seventh round, but most likely priority free agent.
“I’ll take anything. I just need a shot. From there it becomes work ethic and discipline. I’ve got good character, I think that will take me a long way.”
Mack similarly has no questions about his character. If there is any concern, it would be his level of competition. He knows playing in the Mid-American Conference means people look at him differently than if he were doing his thing in the Southeastern Conference.
“No doubt. Everybody wants to know, especially from a scout’s standpoint, how did I get to Buffalo?” he said. “It’s nothing but a blessing, man. I’m glad I got a chance to play here throughout my college career. Seeing guys like James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt, Davonte Shannon, all these guys that instilled that greatness in this program, rubbing off on me.”
A quick refresher on how Mack did arrive in Western New York: He was lightly recruited out of Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., after playing only one season of varsity football. Even though he produced 140 tackles and nine sacks in a 10-2 season, his only FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) scholarship offer came from UB because there wasn’t a lot of tape on him.
With the Bulls, Mack was assigned No. 46. The number didn’t really sit well with him, and he planned to choose it – until EA Sports’ NCAA football game came out and gave Mack that rating. Proving that rating wrong was all the motivation he needed.
He was asked Tuesday whether now – with it looking like a lock he’ll be drafted in the top 10 in May – he’s found it difficult to find such motivation.
“Not at all. I set goals for myself. I’m going to continue to work hard and get better. I don’t feel like this is my final goal, in a sense. I feel like there is a lot more that I have to prove, especially coming out of the MAC conference,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got to go out there and dominate on the next level, and I’m working hard to do that.
“I feel like it’s not a label on you, but it’s kind of like, ‘OK, they taking it for granted.’ But until they get to feel what you be coming off the edge with, and hitting them in the mouth … that’s what I’m out to prove.”
Former UB and Bills receiver Naaman Roosevelt was in attendance Tuesday. Roosevelt said he expects to have a couple tryouts for teams in the Canadian Football League soon. … Buffalo native and former Bills and UB coach Jim McNally was in attendance, scouting for the Cincinnati Bengals.