Defensive End Khalil Mack
With a dominating sophomore season, defensive end Khalil Mack showed that when it comes to the discussion of who the best defensive player in the NFL is, he certainly belongs in the conversation.
The 2015 season served as Mack's coming out party, as he totaled 15 sacks en route to earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He also became the first player in league history to be named a First-Team All-Pro at two positions in the same season.
Heading into 2016, many expect the dynamic edge rusher to be a game changer on the defensive side of the football, and NFL.com's Adam Schein is among those in that camp as he recently named Mack as one of the league's most indispensable defenders.
"Last month on my SiriusXM Radio show, Schein on Sports, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr told me he thinks Mack will rack up 30 sacks this season. And he wasn't joking. Honestly, I get where he's coming from," wrote Schein. "The Raiders are my pick to win the AFC West, as I wrote earlier this offseason. Mack is the most dominant player on the team. He's a budding superstar, fresh off a 15-sack season in Year 2. (Remember the five-sack master class he put on in the Raiders' road win over the eventual Super Bowl champs last December?) And he's only getting better. Scary thought for the rest of the league."
Mack is no doubt one of the top-tier defenders in the NFL, and as the University of Buffalo-product enters his third season in Silver and Black, defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. wants Mack to elevate his level of consistency through 16 games.
"We expect him [Mack] to play at that level all the time," Norton said last week. "The really good players know how to make players around them better. It can't just be Khalil. It has to be [outside linebacker] Bruce [Irvin], it has to be all the guys up front. The group, as a whole, has to take the same leap that Khalil does. Khalil has to learn how to bring everybody with him."
With the departures of Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson to retirement, Mack will also be asked to fill the leadership void their absences have left on the defensive side of the ball, but all indications are that the 25-year-old is up to the task.
The other eight players that made Schein's list are as follows:
-Defensive end J.J. Watt
-Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly
-Linebacker Von Miller
-Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox
-Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh
-Free safety Earl Thomas
-Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu
-Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson