As the Raiders prepared to take on the Texans in the opening round of this year’s NFL playoffs, Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler couldn’t say enough good things about Khalil Mack.
As a Broncos QB in 2015, Osweiler was sacked five times in one game by the Raiders’ defensive end/linebacker. And, though Mack’s sack totals weren’t as high in 2016 as they were in 2015, Osweiler knew that was because offenses make it priority No. 1 to stop Mack in every game.
“He’s a stud,” Osweiler told reporters. “What he’s able to do is truly special. He’s a very strong player, very athletic, fast. He can bull-rush you. He can speed-rush you. He has a high motor, never takes a single play off. So, you need to show a guy like that respect.”
This week, that’s just what the Pro Football Writers of America did, selecting Mack as the organization’s Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.
Mack had 11 sacks, was in on 77 tackles, had five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, an interception and four passes batted down. And, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus, Mack was the NFL’s best edge rusher, with 96 quarterback pressures. At one point this season he had 10 sacks over an eight-game span.
Mack becomes just the second Raider to be named the NFL’s top defensive player. Cornerback Lester Hayes in 1980 was the previous winner.
Former Raiders defensive end Howie Long, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, recently said Mack has the potential to be his generation’s best defensive player, much as Lawrence Taylor was for the Giants in the 1980s.
“I think he has a shot to be that kind of player,” Long told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. “I’m a big fan. I’m extremely impressed with where he is right now, where he’s taken himself to, but he’s at Base Camp 3 and it’s a climb up Everest if you’re great and you want to continue to be great and you want to be one of the greatest. He has that opportunity.”