There was much discussion leading up to this year’s draft about which defensive player would be better in the NFL.
Was it Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina? Or linebacker Khalil Mack of Buffalo?
The Texans believed in Clowney and made him the No. 1 overall pick in the May draft. Mack was taken No. 5 overall by Oakland.
Though Clowney won the draft battle, Mack is winning the in-season competition.
The Raiders are winless at 0-10 as they prepare to face the hot Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night in Oakland, but Mack has been outstanding.
He recorded the first sack of his NFL career on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers Sunday, drew two holding penalties and was again terrific against the run. Against the Chargers, Mack was in on five tackles and now has been in on 56, has two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Clowney, meanwhile, has played in just three games because of injury and illness, has four tackles and no sacks.
With Mack, the Raiders defense has been much better this season than in 2013. He’s been a force. At one point, Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 1 linebacker in the league against the run.
“Khalil, yes, he had a sack and he affected the quarterback and he drew a hold (actually two) and harassed the quarterback several times there,” head coach Tony Sparano told reporters Monday night after Raiders practice.
Sparano said it wasn’t just Mack, however, but the defensive line getting pressure across the front, which allowed Mack some freedom.
At the halfway point of the season, ESPN’s “NFL Live” analysts named Mack their defensive rookie of the year, ahead of Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr and Ravens linebacker CJ Mosley.
Former NFL running back Meril Hoge – who believed Mack should have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft – believes Mack can be something special.
“I think he is going to be one of the most complete, dominant linebackers we’ve ever seen,” said Hoge, who now works for ESPN. “He is just a phenomenal football player. I’ve never seen a linebacker make this type of easy transition to the NFL.”