ALAMEDA, Calif. --Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen knows firsthand how much impact a rookie pass rusher can have on a defense.
Allen has set the bar high for fifth overall pick Khalil Mack, hoping he can do for the Raiders what Von Miller did in Denver three years ago when Allen was coordinator.
"The thing that really was attractive about Khalil Mack was the fact that he understands how to rush the passer and he understands how to rush the passer with power," Allen said. "I see a lot of similarities between he and Von Miller."
The Raiders can only hope Mack turns out to be as productive as Miller, who had 30 sacks and 54 quarterback hurries in his first two seasons.
Mack went from mostly an unknown linebacker toiling in the Mid-American Conference to a surefire top 10 pick with a stellar senior season in which he recorded 10 sacks and put together a personal highlight reel in one game against Ohio State.
He had nine tackles, 2 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in a loss to the Buckeyes that showed he could dominate top-flight talent as well as he dominated his conference.
"The guy has the size, he has the length, he's got speed," Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. "He's a playmaker. We'll find a way to put him on the field and get some production out of him. That Ohio State game was just the tip of the iceberg."
The Raiders targeted Mack early in the draft process and were ecstatic when he was still on the board at fifth overall, leading to no debate in the draft room about which player to select or whether to trade down.
Mack will fit in immediately as a starter at linebacker and offers flexibility as a pass rusher who is adept at blitzing as well as lining up as an end.
He will team with free-agent acquisitions Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith on an overhauled defensive front that the Raiders hope will help improve a defense that allowed the second-most points per game (28.3) in franchise history.
"He's going to obviously have a big role in what we're going to do and he'll be a guy that we're going to use to send after the quarterback in a variety of different ways," Allen said.
Mack won the Jack Lambert Award and finished second to Alabama's C.J. Mosley in the Butkus Award voting - both honoring the nation's top linebackers. He set a conference record with 16 career forced fumbles. His 75 career tackles for a loss were the most at the NCAA level since 2000.
At 6-foot-2 and 251 pounds, Mack is touted to have the speed, strength and versatility to play any linebacker position. At the NFL combine in February, Mack topped linebacker prospects in four of six categories: the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.18 seconds), vertical jump (40 inches) and broad jump (128 inches).
Mack said he believed he was the best defensive player in the draft.
"I think that I am, but even then I'm at the point right now where I'm tired of talking and I want to go out and start proving a little bit of this stuff everybody's been talking about," he said. "I can't wait. I cannot wait."
McKenzie has been unable to draft a star in two years at the helm in Oakland and is under severe pressure to bring in impact players as part of a rebuilding effort after the team posted back-to-back four-win seasons in his first two years.
McKenzie spent much of the offseason upgrading the roster with veteran free agent signings and a trade for quarterback Matt Schaub. But with most of those additions at least 29 years old and likely on the downside of their careers, Mack is expected to be one of the major building blocks in ending a 10-year playoff drought.
Oakland also has its own picks high in rounds two, three and four and three seventh-round picks. The Raiders traded this year's fifth-round choice for quarterback Matt Flynn, who was released last season after being unable to beat Terrelle Pryor out for the starting job. The sixth-rounder went to Houston in March in the deal for Schaub.
49ers select defensive back Ward with 30th pick
Jimmie Ward ran his speedy 40-yard dash on a bad foot just to show he could. He did so in 4.47 seconds, then followed it up with surgery March 11.
The San Francisco 49ers loved that competitive fire in their new safety, along with his versatility and fierce tackling style.
San Francisco selected the defensive back from Northern Illinois with the 30th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, and are ready to give him a chance to play as the third cornerback in nickel formations.
"The reason he ran is he wanted to prove he could run in the 4.4's with a bad foot," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. "He did it because he's a competitor and wanted to show that he could run."
Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh are committed to keeping Ward as a safety for now despite the urgency to fill a need at cornerback after releasing Carlos Rogers and then watching both Rogers and Tarell Brown join the Oakland Raiders across the bay.
Ward is ready to challenge Perrish Cox and Eric Wright for the nickel job. The person in that spot plays about 60 percent of the downs.
"I'm going to try to fit in wherever I can fit in. I'm versatile. I'm going to try to start," said Ward, who started three college seasons at nickel. "I'm a competitor, I want to play. There's a lot I can learn from those guys."
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Ward started all 14 games at strong safety last season, leading his team with 95 tackles - 62 solo - with a 10-yard sack and 10 pass deflections. While starting 39 of 55 games for his career, 12 of those came at left cornerback, so he does have experience playing that spot.
Baalke and Harbaugh are already praising his physical style and instincts to make the right play.
"Don't mistake the size for lack of toughness because that's not the case," Baalke said. "Dynamite comes in all packages."
The 49ers considered inquiries about trading up and also about moving back. Ultimately, with Ward still on the board, they went for the guy they consider a great fit.
"He's got a knack for making the appropriate tackle. Sometimes it's pretty violent," Harbaugh said.
Ward said he sported a 49ers hat throughout the draft process, even before he visited team headquarters a couple of weeks back. The team gave him the cap and a few other gifts at the combine in February.
Why did he stick with the 49ers gear when he also made trips to see nine other teams - including the Raiders and Baltimore, coached by Harbaugh's big brother, John?
"I have no clue," he said. "It went with my sweater, it was red."
Ward might have to wait his turn for a large role on one of the NFL's most vaunted defenses.
San Francisco saw safety Donte Whitner leave for the Cleveland Browns, but replaced him with Pro Bowler and locker room leader Antoine Bethea on a $23 million, four-year deal.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock is returning for the Niners after receiving a four-year contract extension in November that takes him through 2017.
If healthy, cornerback Chris Culliver will likely play opposite Brock. He is working back after missing the 2013 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee sustained during training camp.
Culliver pleaded not guilty last month to misdemeanor hit-and-run charges and felony possession of brass knuckles from a March 28 arrest in which San Jose police say he struck a bicyclist, then rammed a witness' vehicle that was blocking him from leaving until officers arrived.
Baalke certainly hopes Ward can make an immediate impact during the highly anticipated first season at new Levi's Stadium. That's been the case with first-round picks in recent seasons since Baalke took over lead draft duties. In 2010, offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati started every game, and 2013 rookie safety Eric Reid immediately became a key defender.
Ward will report Saturday, then slowly get to work as he continues to recover from the foot surgery. He expects to be on the field in a few weeks.
He learned tackling by playing with two big brothers.
"I always wanted to tackle, always wanted to hit guys," he said.
Ward was the first of San Francisco's 11 selections in the draft - and the 49ers are expected to spend Day 2 looking for a wide receiver and maybe depth at linebacker.
They have a pair of second-round picks Friday, at Nos. 56 and 61, and three third-round choices.