Khalil Mack had five sacks in last year’s victory over the Denver Broncos, one of the best defensive efforts in Raiders history. Don’t call it a breakout game, or a defining moment.
It was pure dominance from start to finish, a contribution vital to that December victory. The showcase was easily digestible, with tangible stats to validate what happened that cold afternoon versus the eventual Super Bowl champs. Five sacks, six tackles and a forced fumble that became a Raiders safety, with big plays made when it mattered most.
Broncos edge rusher Von Miller watched Mack destroy an offense in real time. He came away thoroughly impressed.
“Khalil one-man wrecked our whole team,” Miller said in an NFL Network interview for the “Top 100” show, where NFL players rank themselves. “He ran straight through the offensive tackle. It was incredible.”
The showing didn’t earn Miller’s respect. Mack already had it.
That was true for most the year prior, when Mack had just four sacks in 16 games. His impact went beyond the box score in 2014, when countless players discussed how difficult Mack was to handle.
“He gained the respect of everybody on our team,” then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said after a 2014 contest against Mack’s Raiders. “That guy is one of the best players we’ve gone against this year, and that’s a unanimous decision in (our) locker room.”
Insider knowledge IPO-ed in 2015, when he finished second in sacks (15) and tackles for loss (23) and was named a first-team All-Pro at two positions.
That’s why his name pops up among the NFL’s defensive elite, and why being ranked the No. 13 overall player in NFL Network’s Top 100 is considered a slight by some particularly passionate fans.
His spot in the ranking was given with a player vote. These lists are inherently subjective, and designed to create dialogue during the slowest part of the NFL calendar. Mack is considered among the best after just two seasons, and opinions of him could rise with another strong season that helps end a decade-plus Raiders playoff drought.
Not like they weren’t high already. Mack was ranked above Miller, Aaron Donald and Justin Houston based upon his 2015 effort. Praise is near universal and generally follows a similar logic, one that Michael Crabtree aptly described.
“He’s the definition of a beast,” the Raiders receiver told NFLN. “Lots of people say it, and it’s true. Khalil Mack is a beast. I haven’t seen anybody who can block him one-on-one. Like, Nobody.”
Expectations have risen again, especially with Bruce Irvin, Mario Edwards and Co. helping rush the quarterback for a talented Raiders defense. Mack is the alpha, with versatility – sacks prove he’s elite rushing the passer, but Mack is an excellent run defender – that makes finding weaknesses difficult.
Mack has been compared to Miller from Jump Street. Former Broncos coordinator and Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was flint to that fire on NFL draft night in 2014, likening Mack to the savvy edge rusher. There are similarities and differences between two of the best, but Miller thinks Mack stands alone.
“I feel like we’re two totally different players,” Miller said. “I don’t think it’s fair to compare Khalil to me or any other pass rusher who has come through the National Football League. Khalil is just special.”