"Alex Mack has been rated by many experts as the best offensive lineman in college football...."
Do I believe what I am seeing? Is someone proposing that the New Orleans Saints spend their first-round draft choice on an offensive player? And is that someone...me?
Don't freak (I'll try not to as well). Call it due diligence. Alex Mack is the kind of dominant player who can anchor a squad for a dozen years as a starter, and that's what first-round picks are for. But I don't see the Saints choosing him at #14. If we trade down to a lower pick, though, adding perhaps a second-rounder as well, then Mack becomes more than just a viable option—he leaps up pretty near to the top of the board.
The first thing you notice about Mack is that he's big. The second thing you notice is that he didn't go to the Combine. (Photo Source)
Alex Mack is the virtually unanimous choice for top prospect at center in the 2009 draft. More than that, a few are touting him as the best center prospect in quite awhile. Matt McGuire of WalterFootball.com says "Mack is good enough to be compared to [Matt] Birk, and is going to enter the NFL as possibly the biggest center in football." [WalterFootball.com] The Sporting News compares him to Nick Mangold, and FFToolbox.com says "He is a better prospect than Panthers starter Ryan Kalil." [FFToolBox.com]
Of course—it always happens this way—others aren't so sure. The best comparison CBS Sports can make is to new Miami Dolphin Jake Grove, formerly of the Raiders. Who would spend a first-rounder to get Jake Grove?
Mack is also one of those rare prospects who seems to have just one thing wrong with him: he winds up on the ground after a lot of plays. All the pundits pick up on the same characteristic, but there's no clear consensus on why Mack goes to the turf so often. Is it lack of strength? Is he overbalancing? Is it just the sign of a high-motor lineman trying to make a play on every snap?
It doesn't seem to be any real lack of strength. Mack was pushed around as a junior, and trained zealously between seasons to increase his power. Most would agree that his workouts improved his play.
"Mack's athleticism jumps out and grabs your attention when you watch him on film. He struggled against top competition as a junior, getting overpowered too often for a player of his caliber, but he played with much more consistency against good teams as a senior. Mack has nearly all the traits to become a Pro Bowl center, but to reach that elite level, he must improve his overall strength and avoid lapses in technique." [Sporting News]
"Cal coaches call Mack, a hard-working student on and off the field, the complete package, with great intelligence and technique, tremendous vision and amazing awareness of his surroundings. He plays through the whistle on every down and is a team-first player who was the key to the Golden Bears' zone-blocking schemes. Mack worked long hours between 2007 and 2008 after struggling against the bull rush as a junior. With his added bulk and power, he was noticeably improved last season and during Senior Bowl workouts." [NFLDraftScout.com]
"Mack is an intelligent, experienced lineman who possesses excellent leadership qualities. He has great size and strength and is a good athlete. He’s aware of his surroundings, is quick off the line and tough at the point of attack. He’s a technician who uses his hands to his advantage and mauls the opposition until the whistle is blown." [Scout.com]
As stated above, there is no lack of comparisons in Mack's case. He reminds almost everyone of a top center—just different ones. Birk, Mangold, Kalik...Grove. That's a 75% chance of getting a star.
WHAT'S THE UPSHOT?
Would Payton and Loomis really spend their first rounder on an offensive player?
I think they would—especially if they trade down in the first. Most of the elite defensive talent will already be gone after the middle of the first round; and a lot of talent doesn't fit the Saints' system, anyway (lots of 3-4 outside linebackers or small defensive ends). And that's not necessarily a bad thing, either. What we don't really need, though, is more help at skill positions (except tight end...but committed as they are to making Shockey work, I strongly doubt we take a tight end in the first round).
What's more, Loomis is a "best player available" drafter. We don't know how he defines "best," but it's a safe bet that offensive players are included in his assessments. So it's probably a 50-50 shot that we wind up with an offensive player even if we stay at #14. Everyone had better prepare themselves emotionally for that possibility.
Mack was portrayed by Larisa Oleynik in "The Secret World of Alex Mack" on Nickelodeon. Her superpower ability to become a puddle is based on Mack's penchant for falling down.
He was named his high school league's most valuable player on defense as a senior. He also had a 26-1 record as a wrestler.
Mack is the strongest football player in Cal's history: his 374-pound clean is tops for all positions.