Over at NFL.com they've been putting together their 'Making the Leap' series. They have been counting down to number one and the top player on their list is none other than Raiders second year linebacker, Khalil Mack.
The entire list is 20 players long. Here are the entire 20 players:
20. Charles Johnson
19. Geno Smith
18. Ryan Shazier
17. Martavis Bryant
16. Taylor Lewan, Chance Warmack
15. Tyrone Crawford
14. Blake Bortles
13. Timmy Jernigan
12. Devante Adams
11. Brandin Cooks
10. Josh Hill
9. Sam Bradford
8. Jason Verrett
7. Carlos Hyde
6. John Brown
5. Tyrann Mathieu
4. Sammy Watkins
3. Anthony Barr
2. Teddy Bridgewater
1. Khalil Mack
The reasoning NFL.com writer Conor Orr makes for putting Mack as his number one player is a combination of Mack's low sack numbers (4.0) in 2014 and his high pressure grade from sites like Pro Football Focus which signals his sack numbers should soon reflect his skill set.
Orr noted that while he was watching last year's Pro Bowl he was left wondering why Mack wasn't in it, calling him probably the biggest snub in the league. Here is some of what he had to say about Mack's strengths:
The best players in the NFL are the ones who define the clichés you hear on draft day. 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. His initial punch and upper body strength give him the perfect distance from blocking defenders and the ability to steer his opponent. Check him out here against the Cardinals when they try to run a reverse at him.
My favorite example of [Mack's pass rush abilities] was a late-game sack against the 49ers this season. Mack was running a basic stunt with Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck, but his refreshing size and speed combination took it to another level. Mack was playing against a solid -- albeit tired and beaten-up -- 49ers line and completely fooled Jonathan Martin into biting on his outside move. This is a believable and very-real threat for Mack on any snap which is why Martin drifted so heavily. He quickly realized, though, that Mack can get upfield better than just about any rush linebacker in the game right now.
And on Mack's future potential:
Now that he's playing for a more imaginative defensive coordinator on a team that should take a major leap forward in 2015, all the basic ingredients for more sacks should be in place. (Example: There's a chance the Raiders are leading a few more games in the fourth quarter this year, resulting in more obvious passing downs for Mack to take advantage of.) Oakland should also have more protection for Mack in its front seven with the addition of second-round pick Mario Edwards, Jr.
This is yet more positive buzz on top of the many other accolades Mack has received this offseason. Most of us who covered the Raiders all season were clued into Mack last season. The rest of the NFL world has come along as well.