In November, Khalil Mack showed what makes him special in just one game, a dynamic performance against the Carolina Panthers.
He had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a touchdown in a victory over Carolina, becoming the first NFL player to touch all those bases since safety Charles Woodson did it for the Packers in 2009.
Mack’s teammates were in awe as he wreaked havoc.
“Pick six, sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery. … I’m just blessed to be in his presence,” said linebacker Bruce Irvin after that game. “The guy is one helluva player. I’m just blessed to be in a great situation, to play alongside a future Hall of Famer.”
Though Mack rarely touches the football, he is the Raiders’ most dominant player. He doesn’t throw touchdown passes like Derek Carr, run over tacklers like Marshawn Lynch or catch deep balls like Amari Cooper, but he takes over games with his physical force and relentless attitude.
The rest of the NFL certainly holds him in highest regard, as the recent annual rating of the NFL’s top 100 players spelled out. As rated by his peers, Mack came out No. 5, up from 13th in 2016 after a season in which he was selected the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. One opposing player believes Mack has just "scratched the surface" of what he can be.
Former Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey noted that when Mack joined the Raiders as a rookie (after Heyward-Bey was gone), he started to change the team’s culture. Now, he overpowers opponents every week and chips away at the offensive tackles who try to handle him, snap by snap, until they give.
“He breaks tackles’ hearts and minds each and every week,” said Heyward-Bey, who’s played the past three seasons with Pittsburgh.
Added Chargers running back Melvin Gordon: “He’s a beast. He’s really unstoppable in this league.”
Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who has studied Mack on film, is impressed with the way he destroys blockers.
“He makes offensive linemen look absolutely ridiculous,” said Daniels. “That’s a grown man out there.”
As the Raiders move toward the start of the 2017 season – with training camp set to open in late July – Mack is the key to a defense that needs to get better if Oakland wants to get to a Super Bowl. With key offseason additions, the Raiders might indeed be able to put more pressure on the quarterback from several different spots. That could mean Mack – who has registered four, 15 and 11 sacks in his three NFL seasons – could get many more in 2017.
If that happens, look for Mack to move up even higher on next year’s list of the Top 100. After all, he's just 25 years old.