Two Of NFL's Best Young Defenders Squaring Off


C.J. Mosley and Khalil Mack won't be thinking about each other Sunday in Oakland. They'll be thinking about the blockers opposite them.

Still, the game offers fans a unique glimpse at two of the NFL's best young defenders on the same field. It's a look at the next generation of defensive stars.

"I definitely feel that way," Mosley said. "Coming out the same time, both putting up great numbers coming out of college, analysts are already comparing us to each other. They'll definitely be looking at our stats coming into this game."

Mack finished his 2014 rookie year starting all 16 games at defensive end, making 76 tackles, four sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him as the second-best defensive player (plus-55.3 rating) in the NFL last season, only trailing Houston's J.J. Watt.

Mosley put up better stats at the linebacker position. He also started all 16 games, racking up 133 tackles, three sacks, eight passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble. PFF gave Mosley a plus-11.3 rating for the season, the 10th best among inside linebackers.

They both came up short in the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Mosley finished second with 18 votes, Mack was third with six and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won it with 25.

But Mosley and Mack are fans of each other's games.

"He has a motor; he's always around the ball," Mack said of Mosley. "That's what it takes to be a great player in this league."

Mack was one of the best defenders in last year's draft, and he drew the Ravens' attention.

"I loved him coming out [of college]," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's everything as advertised. He plays hard – run and pass equally well. He is just a hard-playing, dominate-type guy, a very physical-type player. He's one of those guys you have to account for at all times."

Mack ended up being the second defender off the board that year, going to the Raiders fifth overall. The Ravens were the board at No. 17. Did they think of moving up to get Mack? Did they think they had a shot at him?

"No. There was no chance of that," Harbaugh said. "That was not going to happen. Zero. I can't even give you a .0001 [percent chance]."

Twelve picks later, the Ravens got Mosley, the rugged, athletic linebacker out of Alabama. He too has lived up to the billing.

"[Mosley] really shows up on the tape," Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "He has got a lot of athleticism, he has got speed and power, [he's a] very instinctive player and he's off to a nice start in his career."

Mosley is already off to a hot start this season. He picked up two sacks on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in the season opener, along with six tackles and one pass defensed.

With outside linebacker Terrell Suggs out for the rest of the year, Mosley could be a growing part of the pass rush and will be among those trying to pick up the slack of Suggs' missing run defense.

"It's all about communication," Mosley said. "If we can keep our communication going, play great defense, stop the run, we'll still be a hard defense to play against."

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