When defensive end Khalil Mack was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, question marks surrounded the raw athlete from the small school of Buffalo.
The Raiders are certainly thankful that four other teams passed on Mack, because he is already a top-tier defensive player after his third season in the NFL.
The Professional Football Writers of America, the official voice of accredited pro football writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily, announced Wednesday that Mack was their Defense Player of the Year.
Mack continued his ascension as one of the league’s best defensive players, finishing the season with 77 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception. He had an eight-game sack streak, and won AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November.
The stats are great for Mack, but what really set him apart this season was his ability to close out games for the Raiders late in the fourth quarter.
Mack had multiple games where he stuck a dagger in the heart of the opposition by ending the contest with a strip-sack.
Arguably his best game of the season came against the Carolina Panthers, where he became the first player since 2009 to record a sack, interception returned for a touchdown, forced fumble and fumble recovery in the same game.
The Raiders held a massive lead in that game at halftime, thanks in part to Mack’s pick-6 of quarterback Cam Newton to end the first half. In the second half, the Panthers came out swinging and brought the game to within a field goal with less than two minutes remaining.
Newton was driving the Panthers into Raiders territory, but when the Raiders needed a defensive stop, Mack manhandled his way past guard Trai Turner and strip-sacked Newton. The Raiders won that game in large part because of Mack’s fourth quarter heroics.
The Silver and Black are in a fortunate position that few teams find themselves in. They have a young franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, and they have a superstar edge rusher in Mack. The Raiders finished 12-4 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Houston Texans, but the future is bright.