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Raiders think they found natural pass rusher in Malcolm Koonce

The last time the Raiders drafted a player from the University of Buffalo, they found a fast, athletic, polished pass-rusher with an uncanny ability to get to the quarterback. Khalil Mack made a seamless transition from small-school sensation to NFL wrecking ball.

It would be natural then to assume some similarities between Mack and Malcolm Koonce, a Buffalo defensive end who was drafted in the third round by the Raiders last week.

Both players were All-Mid-American Conference stars. Both are 6 feet 3 and in the 250-260 pound range. And they share the same position and nasty disposition for making life difficult on quarterbacks.

But it’s actually a current Raiders edge rusher Koonce draws more comparisons to and a former Raiders defensive end he patterns his game after.

The former would by Yannick Ngakoue, signed in free agency last month with the hope of creating more heat off the edge. The latter is Bruce Irvin, whom Koonce largely credits for his love of pass-rushing.

In fact, when Raiders general manager Mike Mayock watched Koonce, he was instantly reminded of a raw, rangy pass-rush prospect from Maryland whom he scouted during his time as a TV analyst.

“I watched the film, and in my notes it says ‘Ngakoue, University of Maryland,’ and that’s what I saw,” Mayock said. “So I think it’s fairly ironic that they’re now going to be teammates.”

Koonce is serious about his devotion to Irvin.

“When I go back to say I love pass rush, my first initial pass rush that I fell in love with was Bruce Irvin,” Koonce said. “He played for the Raiders, that’s how I found him and fell in love with his game and stuff like that.”

Creating heat off the edge was the point of drafting Koonce, who had 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his final 17 games at Buffalo.

In analyzing film of Koonce, his production wasn’t a case of a superior athlete simply blowing by blockers. He not only displays a natural feel for pass rush but also an elevated understanding of the mental chess game of beating blocking schemes.

“He’s got a toolbox that you’d be surprised to see from a kid from Buffalo,” Mayock said. “He’s got outside slip, he’s got a spin move. He’s got a fake spin move. I was teasing him about it on the phone a couple of weeks ago. You don’t see many college guys with a fake spin move.”

None of which came by accident. As a high school player, Koonce would study footage of NFL pass rushers and implement some of their moves into his game.

“If I watched Von Miller do a spin move against the Seahawks, I’m like, he does it this way, let me try that,” Koonce said. “And if it worked, I was like, all right, I’ll put that in my back pocket and then go watch more of his film. If he does a long-arm club, I would try that, see if that works, and then put that in the toolbox. And throughout the year, I’d get my arsenal up.”

All of which helped him become the best defensive player in the MAC the past two years and firmly plant himself on the NFL radar. Immediately intrigued, Mayock eventually took tape of Koonce to coach Jon Gruden.

“And I just said, ‘You got to watch the tape. He’s a different kind of pass rusher. He’s got a natural slip.’” Mayock remembers telling Gruden.

“Jon got on board,” Mayock said.

As did Raiders defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

“Marinelli pushed him up high, like he loved him,” Mayock said. “Gus Bradley loved him. So, really, the question wasn’t whether to take him at 79. The question was whether or not he was going to get there.”

Koonce could push for a rotational role on a team that managed just 21 sacks last season, 14 of them on the defensive line. He could be in an edge rush rotation consisting of Ngakoue, Cle Ferrell, Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib. And there could be times when Ngakoue, Crosby, Ferrell and Koonce are on the field at the same time on known passing situations.

“His value will be on third down,” Mayock said. “He’s a natural pass rusher.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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