Khalil Mack playing in MAC could keep him from going No. 1

Khalil Mack is a popular person this week. There's increasing chatter that he is in the mix to become the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and he recently leap-frogged Jadeveon Clowney to earn the title of top prospect in this class from NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock.

Not everybody is on board the Buffalo star's bandwagon, however. While he's almost universally considered the top linebacker available for teams Thursday, several NFL Media analysts believe the competition level he faced in college is enough to keep him from overtaking Clowney atop most teams' big boards.

"His work speaks for itself. He has a very good resume. He's got good college tape, a great combine, the offseason workouts -- it all stands out there with just about everybody in this draft," NFL Media analyst Brian Baldinger said on "Path to the Draft." "I do question a guy that comes out of the MAC. There's only been one (defensive) player that's been drafted in the first round to come out of the MAC.

"If he didn't have that Ohio State game, where he really stood out, would he be considered as the first pick?" Baldinger continued. "I think that Ohio State game, more than anything else, has helped him rise."

What Mack was able to do against the Buckeyes last season was borderline criminal. Against a top five team in the country, he racked up nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. The performance on national television drew rave reviews from NFL personnel, but he failed to follow it up the next week against Baylor.

Mack was named the conference defensive player of the year last season, but it's clear that time out of the spotlight and playing in a below-average league is weighing a bit on some as the draft draws closer.

"He dominated the Ohio State game, and that set the tempo for the rest of the season," fellow analyst Curtis Conway said about Mack. "Talent-wise he's definitly a great talent and can play at the next level. But to watch a Jadeveon Clowney play against SEC offensive tackles year in and year out, game in and game out, I don't think (Mack) is the No. 1 guy."

"I don't see him No. 1, but I see him as a top five pick," former GM Charley Casserly said. "I like the guy's versatility to play inside and outside, rush the passer and cover. Hard to find a linebacker that can do that."

It might seem like splitting hairs at this point in the draft process to argue over whether a player is the best defensive player on the board or the second-best, but it's a very real conversation the Houston Texans are having before turning in their card at Radio City Music Hall.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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