Why Khalil Mack was better than Von Miller in 2015
On the balance of the 2015 regular season and playoffs, there were no two edge rushers as devastating as AFC West rivals Khalil Mack and Von Miller. While Mack was the regular-season superstar, racking up 16 sacks, Miller exploded with one of the best performances from any player we’ve ever seen in the postseason, notching six sacks in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl alone. Unfortunately, the very nature of the PFF Top 101 means that we have to rank one over the other, and while Miller (No. 7 on our list) was a superstar in the playoffs and Mack (No. 6) was practically unblockable throughout 2015, it just so happens that the Oakland Raiders weren’t quite good enough to make the postseason.
That Mack is one of the best players in the league should come as a surprise to nobody. He was sensational against the run as a rookie and, while he didn’t dominate as a pass rusher, he certainly made a big enough impression as a first-year pro in that regard. That’s where he stepped up in 2015, though, becoming one of the most devastating defenders in the NFL, wrecking offensive gameplans and hunting down quarterbacks.
Mack registered at least two pressures in every game last season, and at least five in 12 matchups. Let’s consider that briefly: He was able to register at least five pressures (sacks, hits or hurries) in three-quarters of the games he played last season. Miller managed five or more pressures 13 times, but did so over 19 games, so not quite as often as Mack. The Bronco was more productive on a per-snap basis, though, registering a pass-rushing productivity of 15.4 with 105 total pressures on 538 pass-rushing snaps. By comparison, Mack had a pass-rushing productivity mark of 12.3, with 82 total pressures on 534 pass-rushing snaps.
What impressed the most about Mack as a pass-rusher was how consistent he was on a week-to-week basis. The Raider graded negatively as a pass-rusher once all season—the Week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers—and routinely was a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles. Mitchell Schwartz of the Cleveland Browns was our second-highest graded right tackle in pass protection, and his lowest-graded game in that regard came against the Raiders, with Mack beating him for all four of the pressures he allowed that day, including this sack and forced fumble.
Against the run is where Mack really establishes his dominance over the rest of the players at his position, and after wowing everyone as a rookie, he maintained that high standard in 2015. Mack’s run-defense grade of 96.3 was so far ahead of his peers that Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett was the only other player with a grade of 90.0, coming in at 90.1. He made a tackle resulting in a defensive stop 34 times last year, the best mark among 3-4 outside linebackers. Coming on 321 snaps against the run, it gave him a run-stop percentage of 10.6, ranking second at the position. Miller wasn’t unproductive, but ranked 12th at 5.4 percent, with Mack recording a defensive stop almost twice as often as the Broncos’ edge rusher.
There is definitely a case for Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP, who was a better pass-rusher and had one of the most spectacular playoff performances by a defensive player, but on the balance of their full bodies of work in 2015, Mack was close enough as a pass-rusher, and so superior as a run-defender, that he was the better overall player. It’s difficult to split the two of them, and I’m sure both the Broncos and Raiders coaches wouldn’t swap either of them, but in 2015, it was Mack who just had the edge.
[More on the Top 101: To see the entire list of 2015’s best NFL players, click here.]