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Khalil Mack named to early list of Comeback Player of the Year candidates

The 2021 season was just the second in which Mack didn’t play every one of his team’s games.

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers OTA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2021 season, Khalil Mack had only missed two games in his professional career. Both games came during the 2018 season where he recorded 13 starts and came in off the bench in another. Some bad injury luck finally struck Mack in his eighth year in the NFL that unfortunately limited him to just seven games this past season.

Despite missing 10 games, he still finished with six sacks and six tackles for loss. While an injury like that this late in his career can cause some worry amongst fans going forward, an injured Mack was still more productive than Uchenna Nwosu was a year ago who finished with five sacks and eight tackles for loss in 17 games.

When it comes to predicting the future, history says the Chargers should much more expect a healthy Mack for all 17 games rather than assume he’ll miss some extended time. If this is the case, Mack could end up being one of the front-runners for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year honor.

That’s exactly what Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton believes, as well, as the NFL analyst has Mack squarely in the mix of his early predictions for the yearly award. In all, he’s one of six worthy players highlighted by Wharton.

“Adding Mack to a defense with Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and J.C. Jackson could give the Chargers the best overall roster in the NFL,” says Wharton. “Mack’s bounceback after missing 10 games with a foot injury will be massive in their Super Bowl quest. The Chargers have lacked a legitimate second pass-rusher since veteran Melvin Ingram produced seven sacks in 2019, and Mack has long been one of the most dynamic threats in the league. His ability to rush the passer, force turnovers and drop back into coverage as a 3-4 linebacker makes him a uniquely rare presence.”

While Mack hasn’t topped double-digit sacks since the 2018 season, the 14 forced fumbles he recorded during his first three seasons in Chicago go a long way in making up for falling short of the 10-sack threshold through that span.

And heck, even without hitting those desired sack numbers, Mack has still been one of the highest-rated edge defenders in the league over his entire career. Just take a look at his career grades from Pro Football Focus below. It doesn’t get much more elite, and consistent, than this.

“Look for Mack to be a big reason why this Chargers’ defense ascends to an elite level. If he can hit double-digit sacks and help push the Chargers over the top in the loaded AFC West, Mack will undoubtedly earn consideration for Comeback Player of the Year.”

Wharton just about sums it up there. It’s fine to believe that Mack isn’t going to bounce back into his prime, but playing opposite Joey Bosa — arguably the best running mate he’s had in his career — is sure to help him come pretty dang close. Should that happen, there’s no reason to think Mack won’t be at the heart of the discussion around this award.