One of Buffalo's brightest stars caps his rookie year in the NFL with a bang tonight, even without the award that brought him to Phoenix.
It was a surprising to no one in Buffalo this year when Khalil Mack stepped from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL and did nothing but raise his own level of play as the competition around him got tougher. Tonight that seasonlong excellence for the Oakland Raiders was recognized even in disappointment, as the Rams' Aaron Donald claimed the award.
Donald, playing in St. Louis after a breakout senior season at Pitt, enjoyed the most sacks (9.0) of the three frontrunners for the award. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley had 3.
It's a little bit more prestigious than MAC Defensive Player of the year, but the NFL is a bit more prestigious than the MAC. Make no mistake, Mack deserved to be in the conversation despite not racking up the 'glamour' stats, finishing the season with 76.0 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Even so, Khalil raked in plaudits without the traditional stats, thanks to a familiarly tenacious presence in the opposing backfield and an uncanny ability to hold the defensive edge. By most who count the admittedly fuzzy stat, Mack was among the top ten in the NFL in QB Hurries, and the respected folks at Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the top run stoppers in the league.
Frankly, plays like this one were commonplace for the rookie in the final eight weeks of the season:
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Today's award snub doesn't change anything about the promising rookie, one of two former Buffalo stars in the AFC West, but even the nomination alone and the inevitable - fair or otherwise - backlash to Donald's win raises Mack's profile even further as a bona fide star. All of us here in Buffalo certainly know this is so much closer to the beginning than the end for Khalil.