Could Khalil Mack Be A Dark Horse Candidate For League MVP?

Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) celebrates behind San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) after a Raiders sack against the 49ers during the second quarter at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) celebrates behind San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) after a Raiders sack against the 49ers during the second quarter at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Khalil Mack has been one of the most dominant, disruptive forces on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL since his rookie season – could he be a dark horse candidate for the NFL’s MVP award this year?

After a very quiet start to the season – just one sack through the first five games of the season – Khalil Mack has been on fire ever since. Over the last six games, Mack has posted eight sacks, which puts him just outside the top five in the league – and has been one of the most dominant, disruptive defensive forces in the league over the last couple of months of the season.

Mack’s incredible efforts on the defensive side of the ball are a big reason the Oakland Raiders are currently 9-2 and sit atop the AFC West, after completing a perfect 3-0 November — and have won five straight.

He’s been an absolute beast and has made critical play after critical play. Without his efforts, Oakland’s defense would be in terrible shape – worse shape than some believe it’s already in. But could Mack’s outstanding play make him a dark horse candidate for this year’s MVP award?

As is the case most every year, much of the speculation about the NFL’s MVP is focused on offensive players. Matt Ryan. Tom Brady. Ezekiel Elliott. Even Derek Carr has gotten some run. But for the most part, the so-called “serious” MVP contenders are the usual suspects.

Defensive players rarely ever get serious consideration for the MVP award. In its history, only two defensive players have taken home the hardware – Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971 and Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants in 1986.

Outside of those two though, every other MVP has been an offensive player.

But 2016 has been a decidedly – odd – year. To say the least. Up has seemed to be down, and down has seemed to be up. Nothing has made sense this year. Which makes it the perfect year for a defensive player to win the MVP award since something so seemingly strange would seem – well – perfectly normal.

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There are some out there who do believe defensive players should receive more consideration for the MVP award than they do. Count’s Chris Wesseling among them. And for his part, he is on board with Denver’s Von Miller getting the nod. Or, at least, he was over the first quarter of the season.

"“… Miller kicked off the 2016 season with a crucial third-down sack on the final drive of Denver’s Week 1 victory over the Panthers. From there, he came through with a trademark strip-sack of Andrew luck to clinch the Week 2 win over the Colts and terrorized Bengals right tackle Cedrick Ogbuehi in Week 3.”"

Although Wesseling wrote that passage about Denver’s Miller, don’t the scenarios he’s describing sound rather – familiar? Doesn’t it seem like those words, being used to justify Millers candidacy, could have been written about Mack?

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Mack’s game against Carolina showed just how special a player he is. And why he should garner some consideration from the MVP voters. In addition to his six tackles on the game, Mack also had an interception that he returned for a touchdown, a sack, and forced a fumble, which he recovered – to seal the victory.

It was a rare accomplishment – one some are equating to a baseball player hitting for the cycle. In fact, it’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 2009 when Charles Woodson – then with the Green Bay Packers – turned the trick.

More than that though, if you believe that Denver’s Miller should receive MVP attention, compare his stats to Mack’s, side-by-side.

On the season, Miller has 49 tackles (38 solo), 12.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and a forced fumble. He’s been beastly for Denver this season, no question about it. Now, take a look at Mack’s stat line – 51 tackles (38 solo), nine sacks, two passes defensed, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and the interception with its accompanying touchdown return.

Also, for whatever it’s worth, Mack has earned two AFC Defensive Player of the Week and one AFC Defensive Player of the Month nods this season. Miller has one AFC Defensive Player of the Week nod to his credit this season.

Compared side-by-side like that, you might have to give the edge to Mack in the MVP voting. Both are critical components of their defense. But Miller has a little more freedom in that his defense filled with stars that has already established itself as one of the league’s best.

Mack is having to do all of his work with a defense behind him that his play often covers for. Oakland’s defense – which is improving, but still trying to put everthing together – isn’t comparable to Denver’s as a whole.

Which makes Mack’s accomplishments all the more impressive.

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More than likely, this year’s MVP award will go to an offensive player – as it does just about every single year. Some will prop up Mack’s candidacy as the Defensive Player of the Year, no doubt. But given all he’s done, and everything he’s accomplished, an NFL MVP award shouldn’t be out of the conversation.

It’s a long shot and an uphill climb, no doubt. He’d be considered a dark horse candidate – at best. But Khalil Mack is a rare talent and is having a tremendous season. And for everything he’s done – and likely will do the rest of the way – he deserves some consideration for the league’s MVP award.