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Khalil Mack with opportunity to close in on Defensive Rookie of the Year award

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall Faulk asks: Sometimes a player with the most heart has the Professional Grade resilience that can will a team to victory, no matter the circumstances. Which player leaves everything on the field?

At 2-12 on the season, wins have been hard to come by for the talent deprived Raiders. But there is one player who is a strong candidate for an individual award -- Khalil Mack for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

With two games left in the 2014 NFL season, the bid for Defensive Rookie of the Year is definitely not settled. There are quite a few viable candidates who could still win the award. The top names that have been mentioned this season are these:

Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota Vikings

Chris Borland, MLB, San Francisco 49ers

Aaron Donald, DT, St Louis Rams

Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears

Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders

C.J. Mosley, MLB, Baltimore Ravens

At the midseason mark, ESPN held a vote to the fans to decide who they thought was the midseason favorite for the Rookie of the Year. They voted for Khalil Mack.

The experts at NFL.com thought differently. Of a panel of nine NFL analysts and writers, Mack's name was not mentioned. Six of them said Mosley was their favorite, two had Anthony Barr, and one had Kyle Fuller.

Does that mean any of the other names at top are not strong contenders? Absolutely not.

That poll was taken after the Raiders had played seven games. It happened just a couple days after Mack had his first big breakout game in Cleveland. And by then most of these writers had already made up their mind as to who got their midseason vote.

Since then Mack has had seven games to get their attention. With still two more remaining.

The one name on the list above who no one was talking about early in the season is Chris Borland. Mainly because he had just barely become the starter at midseason. But since then he has taken the middle linebacker position by storm. In just a half season, he has surpassed the tackle numbers that Mosley has been putting up as the starter over the entire season.

Meanwhile, Mosley has come back down to earth since midseason. He has been good against the run and his tackle numbers show that, but he's been pretty poor in coverage, allowing an 84% completion to his man. He has dropped to sixth in Pro Football Focus' grades while Borland in just eight starts this season has jumped ahead of him into third place, below only Dont'a Hightower and Luke Kuechly. Mosley is not even the best rookie middle linebacker this season anymore.

The problem now for Borland is he is expected to miss the final two games of the season which will almost assuredly take him out of the running. It's difficult to win the DROY with just eight starts on the season.

Speaking of rookies who have fallen off; Kyle Fuller. He had a couple really good games early in the season and has been atrocious over the second half of the season. Not sure anyone would still consider him a real possibility for Rookie of the Year.

The inclusion of Anthony Barr makes sense. But Mack has outplayed him in most categories.

Name

Sacks

Hurries

Solo tkls

Assts

Stops

Miss tkls

PFF Grade

Anthony Barr

4

16

55

22

33

22

9.3

Khalil Mack

3

43

55

9

43

11

34.5

As you can see Mack has 27 more hurries, 10 more stops, 11 less missed tackles, and a considerably better PFF grade than Barr. Not listed here is tackles for loss against the run, which Mack leads the league with 11.

Barr only leads in sacks but over the past five weeks, Mack has three sacks and Barr has none. Part of the issue for Barr of late is he has missed the past two weeks with a knee injury and his return before the end of the season is in doubt. Like Borland, it's hard to win DROY when you aren't playing.

That leaves just Aaron Donald as competition for Mack. We can't compare most of Donald's stats directly with Mack's because they play different positions. But Donald has some numbers that speak for themselves.

Donald leads all defensive tackles with 33 stops. His 8 sacks is third in the league among defensive tackles. His 30 QB hurries is sixth among all defensive tackles. His PFF ranking reflects those numbers. His grade of 32.4 leads all defensive tackles by a good margin. Mack's grade is higher, but it is still second among 3-4 outside linebackers and third at any linebacker position behind Von Miller (48.0) and Justin Houston (44.2).

Undoubtedly the voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year will not center around just Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald because every voter has their own ideas of who is most deserving. But it really should come down to these two.

There are two more games left in the season for these two to clinch their case.

Donald has the benefit of having elite pass rushers all around him on the Rams defense. Mack is in the opposite position, getting consistently double teamed. This will only get worse with fellow outside linebacker Sio Moore being lost for the season.

So, if Mack can finish strong and add to the impressive numbers he has already put up, he will earn that award. Whether the voters will even notice it is another question.

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