Khalil Mack has a strong Defensive Player of the Year case
Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack just beasted his way into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. If he wasn’t there already, a five-sack, +13.8-graded performance against the Broncos vaulted him firmly into contention.
Mack wasn’t the only Oakland player creating chaos against a struggling Broncos offensive line, but he conquered the most, consistently proving to be far too dominant for either Denver tackle to block one-on-one.
As is all too often the case in the NFL, Denver made no adjustments to try and limit the damage by ensuring protection was always sliding toward Mack, or trying to ensure he was chipped by a back or tight end on their way out into a pattern. The Broncos continued to leave their tackles on an island against one of the league’s best, all while he was having the best day of his career and the best single-game we have seen from any edge rusher in 2015. It cost them dearly.
Mack is now our highest-graded edge defender on the year with a 96.8 rating – almost four points clear of Kansas City’s Justin Houston in second place.
For a player whose pass-rush production was questioned earlier in the season, Mack now has 68 total pressures and 15 sacks (using PFF’s count that awards full-credit for simultaneous sacks). That’s 14 more pressures than he managed all last season as a pretty dominant rookie, and two off the league lead, held by the Broncos’ Von Miller and the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson.
Sacks will always generate the headlines for edge defenders, but part of what makes Mack so good is his consistent supremacy in the run game. He is by far the highest-rated edge defender against the run in the NFL, and that has been the better side of his game since entering the league in 2014. Last season he was a destroyer in that aspect, but he didn’t quite generate enough pass rush to be ranked as one of the league’s true elite defenders in his rookie season.
This season Mack has added pass-rush dominance to his devastating run defense without any drop-off in that area, and he’s clearly become one of the league’s true transcendent forces.
With players like Luke Kuechly, Aaron Donald, Tyrann Mathieu, Josh Norman and of course some guy named J.J. Watt all crushing the league this year, it’s a tougher year than most to win Defensive Player of the Year, but Mack absolutely belongs in the conversation.
Here’s visual representation of how he stacks up against Donald:
Given the performance he was displaying against the Broncos yesterday, it makes Denver’s decision to adjust nothing to account for him even more perplexing. Great players always require a certain acquiescence from the opposition to have truly spectacular games, because after a certain point, the game plan should’ve adapted to try and minimize the effect Mack was having.
Denver elected to go with the head-in-the-sand approach, and it led to Mack laying waste to their offensive line, with Michael Schofield in particular bearing the brunt of the attack and surrendering three sacks, two hits and a hurry.
Khalil Mack is a true Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Going forward, he better garner more attention than the average NFL player.