This isn’t the first time Ledarius Mack’s last name opened a door for him.
Being the younger brother of one of the NFL’s most dominant players has its advantages, but it only goes so far. While Khalil Mack was instrumental in getting Buffalo to recruit him, Ledarius fought for everything after that.
“The thing we talked about with him and his father was, ‘Hey, that name might help bring you in the room, but everything you’re gonna earn here will be based on what you do,’” Bulls coach Lance Leipold said. “And he embraced that. He became a captain. He’s not a captain because he’s Khalil’s brother. He’s a captain because he’s well respected because of how he goes about it. So I would never bet against him.”
After two strong seasons at Buffalo, Ledarius Mack’s pedigree helped him again. He went undrafted, but quickly landed with the Bears in a move that undoubtedly had something to do with his big brother.
But it wasn’t entirely the family connection.
Mack climbed from being a lightly recruited high school player in South Florida — just like Khalil — and playing at a relatively unknown junior college to become one of the top defensive players in the MAC. He capped his college career with 11 tackles for loss, including seven sacks, and three forced fumbles last season.
Buffalo listed Ledarius at 6-1, 240 pounds, but ESPN analyst Rene Ingoglia estimated he’s probably 2 inches shorter and five-to-10 pounds lighter. That’s a big difference from Khalil at 6-3, 269, and it’s unlikely Ledarius will continue playing as edge rusher like he did in college.
Instead, his path will be as a traditional linebacker who can drop into coverage and play a role on special teams. He played special teams both seasons at Buffalo. Leipold said multiple NFL teams inquired about his ability to play fullback as well.
“His size probably held him back from being drafted, but you see the work ethic, the effort and all those things he brought to our program,” Leipold said. “He just kept getting better. I know the NFL is not necessarily into developing players, but he has not come close to reaching his ceiling yet — and he has the drive and the work ethic to achieve that.”
Ingoglia came away with a similar impression after doing Buffalo games for ESPN the last two seasons.
Between the broadcasts and studying film, he believed NFL scouts and draft analysts were missing out on a quality prospect. It helped that he did the Buffalo-Temple game, in which Mack had a strip-sack that looked an awful lot like his brother’s artistry.
“I came out of there really thinking about Ledarius Mack,” Ingoglia said. “He’s better than people gave him credit for.
“They always want to compare him to his brother. He’s not his brother. Hopefully everybody in Chicago knows that. And that’s tough shoes to fill for the kid. But he’s athletic and he’s a hard worker. Special teams is the way he can make the team, but he’s got potential beyond that.”
And that’s where being Khalil’s little brother is a positive again. Imagine any rookie going to a team where someone like him is intent on being his mentor. Ledarius might not get on the field for the Bears until training camp, but if he’s working out and studying under his brother, he’ll be in better shape than most rookies.
That head start might be just the opportunity he needs to prove he deserves a shot with the Bears.
“Here’s the one thing I learned pretty quickly with him: Don’t ever count Ledarius out,” Leipold said. “Don’t count a Mack out. From meeting their father, Sandy, there is a drive and work ethic and humility that I haven’t seen in 30 years of coaching. There’s just something about them.”