The Brandt Report  


Khalil Mack like Von Miller? 2014 rookies compared to older stars


Comparing young players to the accomplished veterans they most resemble can be a helpful exercise -- and tricky business.

I often am reminded of certain stars when watching players on the rise. Putting a developing guy next to an older guy who has succeeded with similar traits and characteristics can make it much easier to understand what type of player you're talking about. That said, just because someone is reminiscent of another player doesn't mean he's a lock to someday become that player; these are still individuals on separate paths with the ability to grow in different or unexpected directions.

When Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Justin Tuck compared teammate Khalil Mack to one of the all-time great linebackers in Lawrence Taylor, it made me think about who Mack and some of the other standout rookies from 2014 most remind me of. So I considered six ascendant players entering Year 2 in the league and found the older -- and, in some cases, retired -- players who best illustrate their potential. I've listed each comparison below, in alphabetical order:

(Associated Press)

Odell Beckham Jr., WR New York Giants

REMINDS ME OF: Cris Carter and A.J. Green

Beckham is a very interesting guy. The Offensive Rookie of the Year burst into the national consciousness with that jaw-dropping touchdown grab against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12, finishing the season with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns -- despite playing in just 12 games.

In Beckham's excellent hands and unbelievable hand-eye coordination, I see Carter, the Hall of Famer who didn't have Beckham's speed but produced at a prolific level thanks largely to his ability to catch the ball and run routes. In Beckham's get-off-the-line quickness, and in the threat he poses to defenses -- Beckham might run a fly route, a corner route or a crosser -- I see Green, the Cincinnati Bengals stud who is similarly impossible to stop. Green (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) has five inches on Beckham (5-11, 198), but Beckham makes up for it with his mind-bending jumping ability. Beckham really looked like a man among boys in 2014.

(Associated Press)

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

REMINDS ME OF: Vincent Jackson

Both of these guys are matchup nightmares -- Benjamin is 6-5, 240, while Jackson checks in at 6-5, 230. Of course, both were also quite green as rookies, with Benjamin playing just two seasons at Florida State and Jackson working against lesser competition at the University of Northern Colorado. Jackson -- who only first cracked the 1,000-yard mark in his fourth pro season, and who notched just three catches for 59 yards in eight games as a rookie with the San Diego Chargers -- didn't run sophisticated patterns or make big moves to get open as a youngster. He was more of a 50-50-ball catcher whose game centered on going up and grabbing whatever was thrown his way. Since then, Jackson has become a much better route-runner, making three Pro Bowls and topping 1,000 yards in six of the past seven seasons, in addition to landing a big-money deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

Benjamin piled up 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine scores while relying largely on his 83-inch wingspan and knack for using his body to get position. If Benjamin can concentrate on learning his routes -- and he's in the perfect spot to grow, with the patient Ron Rivera as his coach -- he'll become an even bigger threat than he is.

(Associated Press)

Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

REMINDS ME OF: Steven Jackson

Jackson has slowed down a bit since joining the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, but when he was in his prime, the former St. Louis Rams back was a monster, posting eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2005 to 2012. The way Hill runs reminds me of vintage Jackson; Hill is a big, strong back with outstanding quickness, and he also catches the ball well. He's very difficult to bring down, as evidenced by his insane rushing totals in the final nine games of 2014 (929 yards and six touchdowns on 172 carries). I don't know if Hill will prove to be more successful than Jackson, but he's certainly on track to produce at a similar level. Hill also reminds me of Eddie Lacy, the Green Bay Packers back with a strikingly similar style.

(Associated Press)

Corey Linsley, C, Green Bay Packers


Linsley and Koppen both did something that's extremely difficult to do: play well as rookie starting centers. Linsley, drafted in the fifth round out of Ohio State last year, started all 16 games plus Green Bay's two playoff bouts, substantially surpassing expectations. Koppen, picked by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of Boston College, started 15 games as a rookie, including Super Bowl XXXVIII. Koppen finished his career with 136 regular-season appearances (132 starts) and two Super Bowl rings, spending nine seasons with the Pats and two with the Broncos.

Linsley is very bright and can move; he can make the initial block, then go up to the next level and block the linebacker, which really enables Green Bay's running game to go. He also is very good at pass protection, especially after playing for a Buckeyes team that didn't throw a ton while he was there.

(Ric Tapia/NFL)

Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders


Mack and Miller both have outstanding first-step quickness, which is key for this position, and both are highly competitive, top-notch athletes. Mack started all 16 games and quickly discovered that opposing offenses were going to account for him on every play. That -- along with the fact that it takes time to learn how to get to the quarterback against pro-caliber offensive linemen -- explains his relatively paltry four sacks in 2014. Mack has the potential to build up his stats; he should also have the opportunity, given that new coach Jack Del Rio, who coached Miller as the defensive coordinator in Denver, will surely bring many of the concepts he used with the Broncos, and will likely have Mack rush the passer more than he did last season.

Mack also reminds me of Rickey Jackson, the Hall of Fame linebacker who notched double-digit sack totals in six of his 15 seasons. You don't hear a lot about Jackson, but he was considered one of the better linebackers of his day, an unbelievable pass rusher with that same athletic ability and first-step quickness.

(Associated Press)

Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

REMINDS ME OF: Logan Mankins

Like Mankins, who went to six Pro Bowls in nine years with the Patriots before being traded to the Bucs last August, Martin was a college tackle who switched to guard upon entering the NFL -- to great results. Martin, of course, significantly exceeded expectations, becoming the only rookie All-Pro in 2014 while playing a pivotal role in helping Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray post career years.

Martin and Mankins are almost identical in height and weight (Martin is 6-4, 310; Mankins is 6-4, 308). They're both strong and both great run-blockers. I love Martin's ability to get to the second level and block the linebackers; that skill -- which Mankins excelled at in his prime -- is so important today. Martin's arms are a bit shorter than Mankins', but that doesn't seem to hamper Martin in pass-protection at all; Martin is also a bit more aggressive than Mankins. Ultimately, I see Martin enjoying a solid 10-year career with multiple Pro Bowl appearances.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.



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