Add another accolade to Khalil Mack's resumé.
The team at Around the NFL designated 20 players who they believed were poised to "Make the Leap," in 2015, and the young Raiders linebacker topped the list.
To find himself in the number-one spot, Mack was placed ahead of numerous other quality players including Ryan Shazier (No. 18), Blake Bortles (No. 14), Sam Bradford (No. 9), Sammy Watkins (No. 4) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 2).
But the Buffalo product was more than deserving of the designation as the No. 1 player, showing his ability to get to the quarterback, as well as becoming a dominant force against the run during his rookie campaign.
Mack started all 16 games for the Silver and Black in 2014, and ranked first among NFL 4-3 outside linebackers in overall (56.4) and run-defense (47.4) rating according to Pro Football Focus.
Photos of linebacker Khalil Mack's rookie season with the Oakland Raiders.
He was also credited with a team-high 51 quarterback pressures and 25 quarterback hits according to official coaches' statistics.
"I can't tell you how many times I've heard analysts say a player constantly has his eyes upfield, but it didn't really make sense until I watched Mack," wrote Around The NFL Writer, Conor Orr. "His initial punch and upper body strength give him the perfect distance from blocking defenders and the ability to steer his opponent. Mack sustained plenty of double teams and chips throughout the season, but was able to maintain his body balance quite well. Unlike many rushers who are a liability against the run, Mack thrives."
And thrive he did, recording 11.5 "stuffs" against the run to rank second in the NFL according to STATS, INC.
However, after a rookie year that saw him total 84 tackles (59 solo), four passes defensed and one forced fumble, the Buffalo product still has room to improve – in particular he can elevate his sack numbers.
Mack totaled just four sacks last season, and both he and Head Coach Jack Del Rio know that number needs to rise for him to take the next step towards becoming an elite defensive player in the NFL.
"I want that number up," Head Coach Del Rio said during Mandatory Minicamp. "I want his numbers up. I think he's got a lot of potential. But again, it's production league. I believe that the hard work that he's putting in will translate into bigger and better things for him. We need that. We need bigger and better things from everybody here. So he's not alone. We're looking for more. We don't think it's unrealistic to expect that."
With Mack's raw, natural ability and a year of NFL experience under his belt, expectations have been set high in 2015, and for good reason, but Mack isn't worried about outside expectations.
Instead, he's solely focused on improving his craft and putting together a quality sophomore effort.
"I don't worry about what everybody is going to think," Mack said. "Everybody is going to think something, but this is my job to get better and focus on what I need to do in order to be a great player. I want to help my team win."
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