There’s no more convincing required: Khalil Mack is the NFL’s top defensive player.
The Raiders’ third-year edge rusher was named The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year on Saturday night at the NFL Honors in Houston, capping a season in which he continually showed off his unique, multi-faceted talents.
Mack did not attend the awards ceremony in Houston and was not available for comment, but posted a message on Instagram.
“I want to first thank my fellow NFL peers for this amazing honor,” Mack wrote. “It’s a privilege to play against you week in and week out. To my teammates, you know I couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you to (owner) Mr. (Mark) Davis and (general manager) Mr. (Reggie) McKenzie and the entire Oakland Raiders organization for giving me the opportunity to play the game I love.
“I want to say thank you to Raider Nation, the best fans in the world! And of course I want to thank my Mom and Day, my family and my friends for always believing in me and allowing me to pursue my dreams. It’s truly a blessing to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year!”
Mack becomes the first Raider since cornerback Lester Hayes in 1980 to win the NFL’s top defensive award and adds this one to similar honors he earned this season from the Professional Football Writers of America and the Sporting News. The AP’s award is widely viewed as the most prestigious, with voting coming from a 50-person panel of national broadcasters and writers.
Quarterback Derek Carr earned six votes to finish tied for third in the AP’s Most Valuable Player award voting, which went to Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Coach Jack Del Rio was fourth for the Coach of the Year award that went to Dallas’ Jason Garrett.
Mack’s top competition for his award came from Denver linebacker Von Miller, the reigning Super Bowl MVP who finished with 13.5 sacks. Mack received 18 votes to edge Miller (17) for the award. New York Giants safety Landon Collins was third in the balloting, followed by the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, Dallas’ Sean Lee and Kansas City’s Eric Berry. Surprisingly, NFL sack leader Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons did not receive a vote.
While Miller and had more sacks, Collins and Berry were both game-changers in the secondary and Donald and Lee were stellar in their own right, Mack put together another standout season in which he regularly showed off his pure dominance.
A two-time first-team All-Pro selection, Mack led the NFL with 96 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He also tied an NFL single-season record with sacks in eight straight games, leading to an 11.0-sack season that included 77 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three fumble recovers and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
The eight-game sack streak included a dynamo of a performance in a 35-32 win over the Carolina Panthers. He gave the Raiders a 24-7 lead just before halftime when he scored his first career touchdown with a 6-yard pick-six against 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton. When the Panthers rallied back after Raiders’ quarterback Carr injured his pinkie early in the third quarter, Mack helped close out the victory when he sacked Newton on Carolina’s final possession and forced a fumble that he scooped up himself.
A week later, Mack pulled off a similar game-closing feat. The Raiders led the Buffalo Bills by 14 points on their penultimate possession when Mack strip sacked Tyrod Taylor and recovered it to help the Raiders run out most of the remaining time on the clock.
Mack’s five forced fumbles this season were nearly double his previous career total of three and tied him for third in the NFL, behind only Beasley and Raiders teammate Bruce Irvin. His three recoveries also tied for third in the league and were the first fumble recoveries of his career.
With this award in tow, Mack could soon see his paycheck rise significantly. The 2017 season is the last year of his four-year rookie contract and he’s now eligible to negotiate an extension. As a first-round pick, the Raiders could exercise his fifth-year option for 2018 to ensure he’s locked up the next two years. But general manager Reggie McKenzie has said he wants to lock up both Mack and Carr, who also is entering the final year of his contract, sooner rather than later and this award could help push Mack toward a deal averaging $20 million per season.
▪ Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, in a two-man race with his teammate, running back Ezekiel Elliott, won Offensive Rookie of the Year. The QB brought the RB onstage to share in his special moment.
“He deserves it just as much as I do from his yards, his catches,” Prescott said. “The way we handled things in the backfield is always together.”
▪ Chargers lineman Joey Bosa won top defensive rookie honors in a landslide.
“I don’t really set goals like this for myself very often, awards,” said Bosa, who missed the first four games after a holdout. “But I definitely wanted this one. I’m really happy I got it done.”
▪ Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, apparently headed to San Francisco after the Super Bowl to be head coach of the 49ers, took the assistant coaching award.
▪ Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, returning from a devastating knee injury, was selected Comeback Player of the Year.
▪ Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning shared the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
“Quite simply this is the most meaningful honor an NFL player can receive, and I am flattered beyond words that the selection committee deemed me worthy of it,” Fitzgerald said. “More than anything it is a reflection on my parents whose words and example taught my brother and me the value of service and the importance of giving back.”
Manning called it “an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with Walter Payton.”
“None of us do what we do on behalf of charity or in our communities to get recognized,” Manning added. “We do it because we truly care. You want to make a difference in people’s lives and in our communities. But to be recognized and know that people do notice your work is nice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.