Not that long ago, Mack Wilson was viewed as potentially the top linebacker prospect in the Class of 2019. After being forced into the starting lineup for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff at the tail end of the 2017 season, the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder helped carry Alabama to a national title. Heading into 2018, the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder wasn’t shy about his expectations for the upcoming campaign.
“I am THE best linebacker in the country,” Wilson, who is a regular on social media, tweeted in January of 2018.
However, Wilson’s prediction didn’t come to pass. Instead, Wilson had a season that was good but not great, piling up 71 tackles, five tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Many in the draft community were surprised when Wilson chose to enter the NFL Draft, and as Aaron Suttles reported for The Athletic, that so-so year cost Wilson in the eyes of colleague Dane Brugler.
“Some teams are optimistic and really like him,” Brugler said. “They expected more from his junior year. Just watching him based off his sophomore season, you had certain expectations going into his junior year and it just seemed like his development was a little stagnant throughout the 2018 season. You didn’t see that big step necessarily that you were hoping he would take. You see he’s a good-sized athlete. He can move well. He has range. I think he has a natural awareness for the football. But the discipline — he needs to eliminate some of the wild plays.”
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com concurred — for all Wilson’s physical gifts, the on-field results just weren’t there.
Wilson dropped a little bit on my list,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I thought his play kind of trailed off down at the end of the year. He’s somebody (who) has all the athletic ability in the world. We’ll see at the combine. Can he have a great workout and kind of try to recapture a little bit of momentum I think he might have lost there at the end of the year?”
Unfortunately, those workouts didn’t go according to plan, either. Whether it was the combine (where Wilson skipped most of the workouts) or at his pro day in Tuscaloosa (where Wilson ran a so-so 4.65-second 40), Wilson’s showing in drills did little to bolster his stock.
Wilson also had to answer questions about his dedication in Indianapolis —the narrative that he’s more interested in posting on Twitter and Instagram than improving his skills and watching film.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people in this world who are going to say things to get under your skin,” Wilson said, via Rainer Sabin of AL.com. “There’s a lot of people in this world who don’t really know football (who) are going to say whatever they feel. You’ve just got to be the bigger person and just really block everything out because at the end of the day you’ve got to wake up the next morning and go to practice, go to meetings and get yourself ready to play another game on Saturday. You really can’t entertain nonsense.”
“I’ve got a higher grade on him than (LSU’s) Devin White,” Zierlein said. “He can handle coverage in space. He’s got great hands when the ball is in his area. He’s more instinctive than Devin White. I think he’s going to have similar speed, although I know Devin White is going to be faster.
“But Mack Wilson is physical. He really does an excellent job of playing his role. Whatever you need him to do, he’s going to do it. I think sometimes he’s a little bit robotic in the sense that he sticks to the script so much. At some point, he’s going to have to turn into a free-form jazz artist if he wants to start making more tackles for losses. He’s got to see opportunities and take his shots. I think playing in the Alabama system, you get kind of regimented with ‘This is your job. Do your job.’ But on the next level, I think he’s going to have to open it up a little bit and take his chances. But from a talent standpoint, he’s physical, he can run, he’s got good physical traits as well.”
So there you go — some draftniks believe that Wilson takes too many chances (and winds up out of position as a result), while others think he needs to take more and be more free-flowing.
The general belief is that Wilson’s going to be a Day 2 pick — more likely than not a second-rounder. But there are those who think that Wilson might slip his way into the back end of the first round. Nick Farabaugh of SB Nation sees Wilson as a potential fit for Pittsburgh at No. 20.
’Wilson is a dang good (inside linebacker),” Farabaugh wrote, “and while the struggles down the stretch at the end of the year are somewhat concerning, they are not the end-all be-all. Wilson had elite 2017 tape, and most of his 2018 tape was really, really good. He changes the dynamic of this defense. He is a fine option for the 20th pick.“
Just as the 20th overall pick would be a best-case for Wilson’s draft stock, a landing spot like Pittsburgh would be a best-case for Wilson’s Individual Defensive Player (IDP) league prospects — a relatively clear path to a three-down role. Early in Round 2 Arizona , Oakland and the New York Giants could all fit that bill as well.
However, even in Wilson lands in a favorable IDP situation, there’s still a nagging question present with him — are we going to see the linebacker who looked so good in the 2017 College Football Playoff with the three-down skill-set and Alabama pedigree in the NFL, or the player who was more potential than production in 2018?
That question makes Wilson the riskiest of the high-end rookie linebackers for IDP owners this year.