The Raiders have only featured one AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) since the award's inception in 1971. Cornerback Lester Hayes turned in one of the greatest single seasons in NFL history when he recorded 13 interceptions in 1980 as the Raiders went on to win Super Bowl XV. Could 2015 produce the second? Second-year defensive end Khalil Mack certainly deserves to be in the conversation.
Mack currently leads the NFL with 15 sacks, .5 ahead of 2014 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. Watt has surpassed 20 sacks in a season twice in his career and won the DPOY award both times.
The second-year player out of the University of Buffalo was selected No. 5 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft and chalked up just four sacks in his rookie season. However, he was a disruptive force at outside linebacker and was more than stout against the run last season. Mack recorded 76 total tackles as a rookie.
So far in 2015, he has continued to manhandle offensive linemen, now from the defensive end spot, and has racked up 67 total tackles (tied for 3rd on the team) to go with his 15 sacks.
Although Mack didn't record a sack in the Christmas Eve win over the San Diego Chargers, Pro Football Focus had high praise of him:
– On defense, Khalil Mack starred again in spite of recording no sacks for the first time since the Raiders Week 11 trip to Detroit. Racking up six pressures, he also registered a batted pass and two stops in his second highest graded game of the season (tied with Week 3). With one week to play, Mack lies just 4.0 behind Robert Quinn ( 80.8, 2013) for the highest single - season grade for an edge defender that we have ever graded.
Mack has logged four multi-sack games this season, including three in a row, and had perhaps the most impressive defensive performance of the year with five sacks in the Raiders Week 14 win over the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. He was unblockable all afternoon and helped the Raiders get back in the game with a strip-sack in the end zone that resulted in a safety.
"[Khalil Mack is] a great player. We tried to help a little bit on him, but sometimes when you're back there, you've got to hold up," Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak said after that game. "We didn't hold up. He played on our left, he played on our right, he played everywhere. He's a great player. Just give him credit."
After that performance at Denver, Pro Football Focus advocated Mack for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Mack did tie the team record for most sacks in a game with five. His 15 sacks this season is one away from tying the franchise single-season record set by defensive end Derrick Burgess in 2005. Early last week, Mack was named to his first Pro Bowl.
The Raiders finish the season against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Mack sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith twice during their meeting Dec. 6 in Oakland. If he repeats that performance, claiming the Raiders single-season record, it might just lead to a Defensive Player of the Year Award.