Khalil Mack exploded into the discussion for Defensive MVP honours last week with his five-sack demolition job on the Denver Broncos offense.
Praise for Mack's performance has been streaming in all week, and rightly so. His achievement is remarkable and ties the Oakland Raiders' record for most sacks in a single game.
There have been high expectations for the second year man out of Buffalo. As early as February this year, NFL.com's Gil Brandt compared Mack to defensive wrecking ball Von Miller.
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Over the summer, Mack's coach Jack Del Rio said he felt that Mack was 'way more physical' than Miller. This year, Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas went further, drawing similarities between Mack and legendary pass rusher Lawrence Taylor.
On paper, his numbers certainly support the praise bestowed upon him. He is number one on NFL.com's sack leaders chart with 14, claiming over a third of the Oakland Raiders' sacks as his own.
His 23 hurries place him 10th in the league in that category and is the most hurries of any player in the top five of the sack leaders list.
Of the other four players in the top five, (in order; Ezekial Ansah, JJ Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson and Aaron Donald), only Watt has passed 20 hurries this season. Perhaps just as impressive is Mack's tackle total of 60, which is currently only bettered by Watt's 62.
Whilst numbers don't lie, they can be slightly misleading. Five of Mack's sacks came in his last game. In fact, he has nine sacks in his last three outings.
Denver's offensive line had done well this season, being in the upper half of the table when it came to keeping their quarterback safe. The other two teams that Mack registered his plays against in this three-game spell were the Titans and the Chiefs, both of whose offensive lines languish near the bottom of the rankings in protecting their quarterback.
Mack is not alone in this regard. Wilkerson has grabbed five of his sacks in the last three games and Ansah has 5.5 in the last three rounds.
Watt and Donald have been far more consistent, registering sacks throughout the season. The Texans standout also makes a nuisance of himself in the pass game, breaking up six passes this year. Wilkerson has also managed to disrupt five passes and Mack has a single pass defended to his name.
Another factor to consider is the personnel available to these teams. JJ Watt has the benefit of lining up beside the mammoth Vince Wilfork. Offenses have to account for Wilfork as well as Watt and the slowly improving Clowney. Wilkerson has enjoyed the support of a Jets secondary that has been stingy all year, giving their pass rushers ample time to get to the quarterback.
On the flip side, Ansah has had to fill the void left by Suh in a Lions team that has been struggling to get anything going all season. Donald has been productive despite the relatively quiet play of Chris Long and the injury to Robert Quinn.
Plenty still to come
Mack's recent surge into public view has been a shard of light for an Oakland defense that has been struggling this year.
His play is almost a reflection of the Raiders' progress as a team this season. He has been good in flashes, but needs to find more consistency in his play to be worthy of the comparisons to Lawrence Taylor.
Perhaps it is premature to herald him as the second coming of LT but if he can finish the season strongly, the Raiders may have unearthed a defensive leader that could lead this young team back to old glories.
Mack may have left it too late this season to be seriously considered for defensive MVP but if the Raiders can build upon their development this year into next season, Mack could be at the heart of Oakland's revival.
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