Oakland, CA — Entering the third season of his career, Oakland Raiders standout defensive All-Pro Khalil Mack has already set a high standard. In fact his performance last season made him the first player in NFL History to be named first team All-Pro at two positions (Linebacker and Defensive End). Is it possible that Mack will be good enough this season to surpass J.J. Watt and grab the honor of NFL Defensive Player of the Year? It is possible, and I believe it will happen in 2016 for the young phenom.
There are quite a few factors that have put Mack in position to be at least, one of the favorites to win the award this season. The immediate being J.J. Watt recently having back surgery to repair a partially torn disk in his back. There are speculations that Watt could miss the entirety of training camp, which means he might not even be 100% even if he does play week 1. Back problems always leave plenty of question marks surrounding both a player’s immediate health, and future ability to get back to form. One hopes Watt can overcome the injury and return to his historic pace of defensive domination. There is no doubt the NFL is better with him wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.
Back in Oakland, and soon to be in the Napa Valley for training camp, Mack shows no signs of slowing down. He’s already making a name with his hard work and leadership. The second biggest factor in him contending for this award, outside of his amazing talent and physical attributes, is the cast of players Reggie McKenzie has gathered on this rising Raiders squad. On the defensive side of the ball alone they brought in standout CB Sean Smith from Kansas City, LB Bruce Irvin from Seattle and their #1 Draft Pick, S Karl Joseph (West Virginia) was the top safety in the entire draft plus Aldon Smith will be back after his suspension is lifted in November. All of this will only make it harder and harder for teams to double team Khalil Mack every play.
Looking at his 2015 numbers one would have to think they are only going to get better. The top three defenders from the LB/DE position last season were arguably Watt, Mack and Aaron Donald (STL/LA). There were even national media members that felt Mack deserved the DPOY vote. Nobody will complain that Watt won it. The guy is an absolute monster. Mack, however, is “quietly” creeping into this discussion. Pro Football Journal had them in a deadlock going into the last game.
For Watt you can see that his QB hits are what won him the award. This is before the last game of the season and Mack had the lead in sacks. Watt went on to pass Mack with a 3 sack performance in the final game. Besides the QB hits though it was a very close race. This did not include any DB candidates but you can see the talent these three boast at their positions.
As good as he was at getting to the QB last season, Mack was the top player against the run at his position last season. Pro Football Focus graded him a 96.3 vs the run. To put that in perspective only one other player in the league had a score over 90 (Michael Bennett SEA 90.1) which shows just how good Mack is against the run.
It is Khalil Mack that shows the diversity here. Being named All-Pro at two positions really cements his status as one of the top defenders in the entire NFL period. He’s healthy, he’s hungry and he is on a Raiders team that is seeking a return to the Playoffs for the first time in over a decade. If things align like they appear to be doing for Mack not only could he be helping bring relevancy back to Oakland, but he could be bringing home some serious hardware. I think he is the favorite to win the DPOY award and until there are some unforeseen changes for the 2016 NFL Season, I’m going to keep him at the top of the list.