Khalil Mack has the respect of his peers. That was evident throughout last season, when opponents lauded his strength and skill. It was confirmed on Wednesday night, when he was ranked No. 46 in the NFL’s top 100, per a vote of his contemporaries.
“Oh man,” Mack said Thursday, after the team’s final offseason practice session. “It tells me that hard work pays off in the sense that they see the hard work and effort I’ve put into playing these great games on this great level.”
Despite having a significant impact in most every game, Mack knows he needs to do more. He had 76 tackles, including 16 for a loss, but finished with just four sacks and zero through his first nine games.
“I’ll be honest. Mentally it was a little frustrating,” Mack said. “Even then, I had talks with Justin Tuck. He let me know everybody gets lucky. It’s not all just because of technique and being fundamentally sound.”
Still, sacks and forced fumbles are a staple of dominant defensive players. Mack wants to make those plays. The Raiders need them. New coaches have little doubt Mack can take over a game in the traditional sense.
“Going into this gig, you heard stories about Khalil before we came and how Khalil was such a young talent,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “…Everybody is saying how good he is and he got four sacks. I thought to myself, ‘How many great players have four sacks?’ You have to get in double digits. So he has a lot of growth ahead. If they’re thinking he’s this good and he’s done so little, imagine when he actually does what he’s supposed to do.”
Norton has confidence in Mack’s future for one simple reason.
“He has a ridiculous, ridiculous work ethic,” Norton said. “In my experience, that turns into really good football players.”
That ridiculous work ethic often happens without prompting. That’s clear just looking at Mack, who bulked up this offseason. Mack is hovering around 270 pounds, roughly 15 pounds over last year’s playing weight. Mack deemed it necessary after grinding out 1,034 defensive snaps against massive offensive lineman.
Last year’s No. 5 overall NFL draft pick believes add muscle will help endure the rigors of a long season. This drive isn’t an NFL thing.
Mack’s work ethic has been with him a while now, and won’t leave after one good year. Life experience made sure of that.
“That comes from getting one scholarship and going to the University of Buffalo and knowing that there are guys in the SEC and all those big conferences that are good and great – at that point, they are great in college,” Mack said. “I had a lot of space between Buffalo and those elite conferences, so I had to do a lot of work in order to get to that level, in my mind. I’m still the same way. I feel like there are a lot of people on this level that are still great, but there’s still a gap, so I’m trying to close it every day.”