Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack has played three seasons now, each one better than the last. His third campaign was a dominant showcase for his playmaking ability, one many consider the NFL’s best.
His stats are strong. His play was clutch. His value was unmistakable. Without him, the Raiders defense would’ve been a mess.
The Pro Football Writers of America and Sporting News acknowledged those facts with a defensive player of the year award.
The big one, however, comes on Saturday at the NFL Honors awards show. The Associated Press awards are considered the highest honor, coming from a 50-member voting panel of writers and broadcasters across the country.
Mack is certainly a favorite to be the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year, and the first Raider to win the award since 1980. He has competition from Denver’s Von Miller, Atlanta’s Vic Beasley, New York Giants safety Landon Collins, Kansas City’s Eric Berry or maybe L.A.'s Aaron Donald.
Unlike awards in other leagues, there is no ranking talent with second or third place tallies. Voters pick one guy. That’s it.
A case could be made for any of the aforementioned. There’s a strong case for a few.
Mack is certainly there at or near the top. He didn’t lead the league in any official stat —Beasley and Miller had more sacks – but his line was incredibly diverse.
Mack finished the 2016 season with 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception. He had 16 tackles for a loss, one off the NFL lead. According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, Mack led all edge rushers with 96 total quarterback pressures, 17 more than Miller and 51 more than Beasley.
Mack was excellent against the run and pass despite significant attention directed his way. He would take over games, and was virtually unstoppable during an eight-game stretch with at least one sack.
He played well in nationally televised games, with a sack against Houston a Monday night and had two sacks and a forced fumble in a victory over Denver on Sunday Night Football.
Against Carolina, Mack showed incredible value. He had an interception returned for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter, and sealed victory late in the fourth quarter with a strip sack of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Then he recovered his own fumble. That wasn’t a one-time thing. He did virtually the same thing the following week against Buffalo.
Mack might get penalized because his defense wasn’t dominant, but it aided the team’s 12-4 record and was paced by a star rushing off the edge.