The Raiders went after Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, and expected to get a pass-rushing phenom.
That didn’t quite happen.
What they got instead was one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL. Mack, as they discovered, isn’t just a pass rusher. He’s a solid, fundamental, athletic linebacker who is driven to succeed.
On a defense with many holes, Mack was a star. He started all 16 games, was in on 84 tackles, had four sacks and forced a fumble.
Also, according to Pro Football Focus, he had the best overall performance ranking among all outside linebackers in 4-3 schemes and also the best against the run. He had 16 tackles for loss and led the Raiders in quarterback pressures with 51 and quarterback hits (25).
Opposing coaches and players raved about him this season, including 49ers Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Staley, who had to go against him in the Raiders’ late-season victory.
“He’s super talented, a big physical guy, and he plays hard,” Staley told reporters. Staley said he makes “a huge impact in the run game” because of his “smash-mouth” style. Added Staley: “He’s a big challenge.”
Mack, who played the final game with an injured leg and eventually had to come out, exceeded the Raiders’ expectations for him. And their expectations had been high.
Mack said the season was disappointing in that the Raiders were 3-13. The losing hurt. But he knows he can build on 2014 and improve.
“You want to win games,” Mack told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “That’s always the main focus. The record is not what we wanted, but the good thing is the chance to come back and do better next year.”
The presence of Mack on the roster certainly makes the Raiders' head coaching job much more attractive than it was a year ago. Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and several other first- and second-year players will give any head coach some fine pieces to build around in 2015.