When Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack entered the NFL in 2014, the biggest question surrounding the University of Buffalo-product was whether he could he go from competing at a small school to holding his own against some of the best football players in the world.
Fast forward three years, and now the biggest question surrounding Mack is how much better can he get?
No. 52 is coming off arguably his best season yet; in 2016 Mack totaled 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, a pick-six, earned Pro Bowl and AP First-Team All-Pro honors, and was also crowned the AP Defensive Player of the Year. What Mack has been able to accomplish in just three years is astounding, and in his mind he’s just getting started.
“That [Defensive Player of the Year] was the motivation I needed this offseason,” Mack told reporters at Monday afternoon. “It only heightened everything from preparation to the workout. Knowing everything you can get better at, even though you did have that success; it made me more hungry.”
Standing at 6’3” and weighing 252 pounds, Mack is certainly an imposing presence along the defensive line. The explosive defensive end has proven time and again that he’s committed to enhancing his game, so much so his own mother told him this past offseason he needed to take some time to relax.
“I squeezed in two [days off] this year; my mom made me,” Mack said with a smile. “It was a cool experience, but back to work and focused and ready for this offseason.”
That’s just the type of person the Florida-native is; he’s received one of the highest accolades a defensive player can receive, yet he’s not satisfied. Even though he was selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, in his rookie year he set out to prove to the critics he could play at the pro level.
While Mack has garnered a myriad of individual accomplishments, his approach is simple; he’s just doing whatever he can to benefit the team. He’s playing for more than himself; his focus is on helping the Raiders win, and he knows he can’t do that without the help of his teammates, and it’s because of that he attributes winning the DPOY to the support of those around him.
“For sure, it meant a lot to me and my family,” Mack said. “It was a testament to hard work. Not only that, but coaches, my teammates, everybody took part in that. It wasn’t just me. It was a big deal and I’m grateful.”
At only 26 years old, Mack’s career is still getting started, and he’s cognizant of the fact that he, along with the team as a whole, can improve. For someone who’s driven to exceed expectations, don’t expect Mack to take his foot off the gas any time soon.
“When you talk about improvement and those things, it’s just a feel for the game throughout the year and improving on things defensively,” Mack added. “Even then, it’s exciting because you look at what we did but we can be so much better. “It’s not just about me. That’s the approach I always take. You say Defensive Player of the Year, but it’s all those guys around me making it happen, so we can make those plays that we made throughout the year.”