In 1986, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor had a monster season, recording a career-high 20½ sacks for a team that would beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Taylor was the most dynamic defensive player the league had seen in years, a talent who transformed the linebacker position, and he was voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Taylor was just the second defensive player ever to earn the award – Minnesota’s Alan Page won it in 1971 – and no defender has won it since.
Could that change in 2016?
NFL media columnist Adam Schein believes it’s possible, and he includes Raiders defensive end-linebacker Khalil Mack among his nine candidates for MVP this coming season. Schein, writing for NFL.com, lists some usual suspects, such as quarterbacks Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, running backs Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Dez Bryant. But he also points to Mack and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt as two defensive players who could be so dominant as to push their way into the picture.
Especially, he says, if the Raiders live up to growing expectations and get into the postseason after more than a decade.
Last season, Mack thrived under new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and head coach Jack Del Rio. He was used as both an outside linebacker and defensive end and moved around the defensive front in order to best utilize his skill set. The result was an All-Pro season.
In his rookie year of 2014, Mack had four sacks and was in on 75 tackles; in 2015 he had 15 sacks and was in on 77 stops. If he continues to progress, and the Raiders’ turnaround is real, Schein believes Mack could have an MVP-worthy season.
Wrote Schein: “Last season we saw what happens when a defensive coordinator completely turns Mack loose off the edge: 15 sacks and two forced fumbles. (Touche, Ken Norton Jr.) And Oakland added another explosive edge rusher (Bruce Irvin) in free agency, so it’ll be more difficult to completely focus all protection on Mack.
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to conjure up a scenario where the Raiders win 10 games, Mack sacks the quarterback 20 times and Oakland sits atop the AFC West.”