Khalil Mack has a strong Defensive Player of the Year case

After his dominant performance versus Denver, Khalil Mack has a legitimate case to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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:

Mack vs Donald DPOY

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Adrian Brody’s O face

    Mack was taking Schofield behind the woodshed all game. It frustrated me to no end that Denver didn’t do anything to help on the right side of the line. Complete failure by the Denver coaching staff to adapt and adjust to the game.

    • anon76returns

      He also destroyed Ryan Harris for a sack off the offensive left side, again with no help lent to the OT.
      Coaching-wise I haven’t seen too much to complain about this year, but leaving sub-par tackles to their own devices (not only this game, but the vs. KC game as well) has led to some embarrassing losses where the Broncos’ defense was stymying the opposition.

      • Tito Puente

        What it looks like when a child steps in front of a Mack truck…

        https://twitter.com/nickhjeltness/status/676192591239651328

        • Jarett

          That was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. He was picking up speed while running over a 300 pound dude. Also, it looks like the RB was supposed to give some help and he looks scared. hahahaha

  • RaiderRoss75

    That was simply an AMAZING performance. Mack won that game almost by himself. Neither tackle had any answer for him. STUD!

    • Brandon

      AFC west undoubtedly has the best OLB. Mack, Houston, Miller I wouldn’t blame San Diego either if they wanted to draft Bosa.

      • anon76returns

        Don’t forget Aldon Smith (47.5 sacks since 2011), Tamba Hali (44.5 sacks since 2011), and 1st ballot HOFer DeMarcus Ware (53.5 sacks since 2011).

        When those are the guys playing 2nd fiddle in the pass rush, you know you have a very QB unfriendly division.

        • Brandon

          Ha very tackle and Qb unfriendly division. Ya out curiosity when is Aldon Smith come back from suspension? Oakland will have a good team with Smith and Tuck Back. If they invest in a secondary pick that Defense has potential to challenge anyone. That’s coming from a chiefs fan.

          • anon76returns

            Aldon should get a 1 calendar year suspension, starting from a few weeks ago when the ban was instituted, meaning he’ll miss the beginning of next year as well. There’s also the problem that Oakland only signed him for a year deal, so he’ll become a free agent while suspended, but Oakland has given some level of promise that they’ll pick him up again.
            Smith/Tuck/Mack are a fearsome threesome, but the problem for the Raiders is that Tuck is fairly old, they have no MLBs, and they need 3 players in the secondary, not just one (and that assumes that Woodson will be able to continue his current level of play). You could see what happened this season when the defensive play was respectable if unspectacular through the first several weeks, and then Tuck got injured and Aldon got suspended, and now (recent Denver game notwithstanding) they’re having a hard time avoiding shoot outs.

          • codered5

            For suspensionsome of this nature smith contract will actually continue from the point of suspension so he won’t see free agent til next off season so they’ll have to make a decision

          • bennings

            Mack has played his best football since AS was suspended – they never lived up to that hope (shall we say) we all had but I wonder if that isn’t more related to Mack’s health, because he’s finally healthy (his lower body, in any case) after tweeking his groin vs Bengals in Game 1? That kind of injury can definitely impact the “get-off” for a player like Mack who has tremendous lower-body power when right. The Raiders are likely to move forward without saving a spot for Smith, which means he will have to earn his spot. I say that because he will once again be football-free for an extended period of time. While AS played well for the Raiders, he had yet to play back to his heady “early” SF days. The Raiders have to decide if he is committed to returning to that level, and if he’s capable of returning to that level before they commit a large multi-year deal to him. It is far from a sure thing at this point, if I may surmise.

          • anon76returns

            I think his first contract with the Raiders was simply a value contract where the Raiders knew he’d get suspended and just wanted to get something out of him for as little money (and risk) as possible. I think his play “earned” a 1 year prove it contract. No idea whether or not he’ll see that out- he’s said the right things so many time only to slip back into alcohol that it would be pretty silly to expect different at this point. But, if he does play well then that would be a huge boost for the Raiders, and I’m sure he’d get a decent sized 3-4 year deal.
            I don’t know what it looks like to you Raider fans, but even the early season “meh” pairing of Mack and Smith looked like a huge improvement over previous years’ Oakland edge rushing to me. You can’t expect to go from 0 to 100 overnight (especially since, IIRC, Smith missed the entire offseason, training camp, and preseason). Smith and Mack played well together and had decent enough chemistry, which should be considered a very promising start. The two of them plus Edwards should allow the Raiders to focus on their dreadful secondary (outside of Woodson) and MLB group in the draft and FA, which, again, is a relative luxury compared to where the Raiders were 18 months ago.

          • timetojam

            You pretty much nailed it. On the Raider forums we’re all asking for an MLB and lots of secondary help. If we focus on defense in the draft the way we focused on offense this year, this could turn into a very good team

          • anon76returns

            I think you could still use a marquee RB, and I’m not sure Rivera + other guy will be fully taking advantage of what Carr can do for the TE position, but yeah, clearly defense needs more help than offense at this point. The nice thing about McKenzie is he’s finally cleared out all the dead weight so that the Raiders could actually address some of the needs in FA rather than in the draft (players outside of the 1st round are unlikely to make much of a contribution next year anyway).

          • simonpeggroundhole

            I disagree. We’ve drafted well in deep rounds. “Other guy” Walford (3rd rd rookie) is quickly shaping into a legit tight end and is already better than Rivera. Edwards (2nd rd rookie) is already our 3rd best defensive player, and Gabe Jackson (3rd round) is vastly overlooked and will be a probowler in a couple years and justin Ellis (4th rd) isn’t far behind. Neiron ball (6th) flashed some great play as did Ben heeney (5th).

            I agree that latavius isn’t the long term answer at rb but you’ve got to appreciate leading the afc in rushing as a 6th round draft pick.

    • brewers_rule

      Yeah, as a Packer fan, this guy scares the CRAP outta me for this weekend’s matchup. Nice to see our former Packer McKenzie getting you guys some great players out there & securing his job in the process but the way GB’s playing lately I think you guys may win this one if the Packers don’t take them REAL seriously. Hopefully the Oakland folks get to enjoy the fruits of this rebuild before the NFL enacts its neverending obsession with moving this or another team to LA.

  • LG

    Stud draft class

  • crosseyedlemon

    Winning in Denver against a top defensive unit is a real character builder and the Raider fans have to excited about the possibilities for next year.

  • JudoPrince

    That was the most dominating defensive performance by a player in a half I’ve ever seen. Even Watt has never quite reached that level of dominance.

    • shaunhan murray

      5 sacks in half…incredible.

  • Tim Edell

    That was definitely one of the best defensive performances I have ever seen!!

  • Sherry Rih Ruben McKenzie

    Relentless speed rusher and bull rusher!!! Mack is a monster!!!! Go Raiders Go!!!!!!!! Oak for life baby!!!!hey

  • brewers_rule

    I’m trying to understand why this guy isn’t getting more love in fantasy IDP leagues. Seems they all have very similar rankings and the guys like Mack and Malcolm Smith that seem to be leading my league’s scoring are WAY down the lists. I took my scoring from an IDP blogger so I presume it’s a fairly normal system so I’m not sure what gives. Same thing happened last season with Lawrence Timmons. Thinking of dropping Chandler Jones for Mack & bucking the trends for my playoff run.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    needs to rearrange his name to ‘Khilla’, kudos, sir