By almost any measure, the Raiders’ Khalil Mack ranks among the NFL’s best defensive players.
In 2015, Mack became the first NFL player ever selected to the Associated Press All-Pro Team at two positions in the same season: defensive end and linebacker. He nearly led the NFL in sacks, falling just short with 15½, and was a dynamo against the run.
“I do whatever I can to help the team win,” Mack said. “I’m a team guy. … Whether it’s dropping in coverage or rushing the passer, I can do either. I think they (All-Pro voters) saw that.”
Mack has been the foundation of a turnaround on the Raiders defense. Now, as the Raiders head toward training camp in July, they’re eager to see what they can do with some additional pieces on defense, including linebacker-pass rusher Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith and safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph.
Already, analyst Bill Barnwell of ESPN wrote this week that the Raiders have the 14th-best trio of defenders in the NFL. In ranking the best defensive “triplets” across the league, Barnwell says the threesome of Mack, Smith at corner and Dan Williams at defensive tackle is a formidable group. Barnwell says the three players give the Raiders a strength up front and in pass coverage that they haven’t had in a long while.
Williams, who played his first season in Oakland in 2015, “is a wildly underrated anchor” for the Raiders’ run defense, and Smith – paired with David Amerson – should give the team its best pair of corners in a long while.
But when it comes to picking the three biggest-impact defenders on the Oakland roster, Irvin might have been a better choice than Williams. The tandem of Mack and Irvin, working together on opposite sides of the field, should put tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2016. Though Irvin was an important piece of the defense in Seattle in recent seasons, he could rise to star status this coming season in Ken Norton Jr.’s defensive scheme.