Most agree that the Oakland Raiders hit a home run with their 2014 NFL Draft class. Of their eight picks, four were starters for the majority of the season: first-rounder Khalil Mack, second-rounder Derek Carr, third-rounder Gabe Jackson and fourth-rounder Justin Ellis. Mack and Ellis were named to the PFWA all rookie team. Seventh-rounder T.J. Carrie received significant playing time and became a starter by the end of the year, as well
Yet, even in a class this strong, Mack stood out above the rest. The fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Mack was thought by some to be the best defensive player in the draft, even better than Jadeveon Clowney. Unfortunately for the number one overall pick in the draft, injuries kept him on the sidelines most of the season. Meanwhile, Mack started the year slowly, failing to get a sack until the tenth game of the season. Though he ended up with 40 quarterback hurries, 10 quarterback hits and four sacks, his slow start in the pass rushing stat categories could hurt him in the AP vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Mack was an absolute beast against the run, frequently tossing tackles and tight ends aside with ease as he tackled running backs behind the line of scrimmage. As the year progressed, you saw linemen holding Mack more and more as his pass rush skills improved. There were times that offensive linemen flat out tackled Mack rather than allow him to get to the quarterback.
Mack did all this with very little help up front. The Raiders defensive line was one of the worst units on the team in 2014, with the defensive ends struggling to do much of anything. This allowed Mack to be double- and even triple-teamed at times, making his stats look worse than his actual impact on the game.
His primary competition, Aaron Donald, had no such problem. Donald was part of a strong defensive line in St. Louis that undoubtedly helped him with stats this year. That’s not meant to take anything away from what Donald accomplished. Nine sacks from an interior lineman is nothing to scoff at, regardless of who’s surrounding him.
In the various unofficial rookie of the year awards, the two have gone head to head. Donald won the Pro Football Talk and Pro Football Focus DROY honors, while Mack was named DROY by NFL Live. But as far as prestige is concerned, none of these nods matter nearly as much as the AP awards. Mack certainly will receive strong consideration, and if you ask Raiders fans, he deserves to win. However, he has some stiff competition in Donald and for good reason. Regardless of who wins, the Rams and the Raiders both added key pieces to their defense last offseason — that’s what matters most.