Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

by Donald Parker

Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

Khalil Mack Odell Beckham Jr. Rob Gronkowski RussellWilson Todd Gurley

Aaron Donald Aaron Rodgers Alvin Kamara Antonio Brown DrewBrees J.J. Watt Julio Jones

Tom Brady Von Miller

Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

by Donald Parker


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Further Reading 74 Internet Resources 75 Index 76 Photo Credits 79 Educational Video Links & Author Bio 80

Chapter 1: Greatest Moments 7 Chapter 2: The Road to the Top 21 Chapter 3: On the Field 37 Chapter 4: Words Count 51 Chapter 5: Off the Field 63 Series Glossary of Key Terms 72


Words to Understand: These words with their easy-to-understand definitions will increase the reader’s understanding of the text while building vocabulary skills.

Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Educational Videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments and much more! Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there.

Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis.

Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout this series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.

WORDS TO UNDERSTAND disrupt – to interrupt the normal course or unity of something feud – a long, bitter quarrel between two people, families, or groups tallied – recorded x-factor – a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

Chapter 1

Greatest Moments

KHALIL MACK’S NFL CAREER Khalil Mack is coming into his own as one of the NFL’s (National Football League’s) premier linebackers. The Oakland Raiders thought highly enough of Mack to make him their first-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, using the fifth pick to acquire him. The faith the Raiders had in Mack’s abilities was not misplaced. He left college after a stellar four-year career that earned him all-conference (Mid-American Conference) defensive honors. Mack was lightly regarded coming out of high school, but once he got on the college gridiron, he developed into a feared pass rusher and tackler. Scouts admired Mack’s performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and at 6 feet, 3 inches (1.90 m) and 251 pounds (113.9 kg), he appeared to meet the “eye test” as a potential high first-round draft pick and impact player in the NFL. Mack earned a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team in 2014 and went on to become the Defensive Player of the Year (DPoY) in 2016.


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

Mack impressed pro scouts at his 2014 NFL combine workout at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Mack is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and has been named First Team All-Pro three times. He is as equally respected a pass rusher as Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) and Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans), the thirteenth and first picks, respectively, who were in the same draft class as Mack. He is similar in his approach to the game as other all-time great linebackers such as Mike Singletary, Ray Nitschke, and Dick Butkus. In fact, his outstanding 2016 season that led to his player of the year award also earned him the Butkus Award for professional linebackers. Mack racked up an impressive fifty-three sacks in his first five years with theOakland Raiders and Chicago Bears. He also recorded 350 tackles, including 268 solo tackles, and 78 tackles for loss. His tackles for loss total at the end of 2018 already placed him twenty-sixth among active players. Mack led all linebackers in quarterback sacks in 2016 with fifteen. He is the only NFL player ever to record a sack, an interception return for a touchdown, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in a single game, something Mack did, not just once, but twice.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

Mack’s Greatest Career Moments



Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

First NFL Interception Return for a Touchdown Mack turned in a phenomenal season in 2016. Alongwith seventy-three tackles and eleven quarterback sacks, he helped the Raiders to their first double-digit victory season (twelve wins) and their first playoffappearance in fourteen years. Thehighlight of his seasonwas an interception hemade in a game against the Carolina Panthers. Mack reached up in the air to pull down a CamNewton pass and returned it six yards (5.49m) for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown he scored in his NFL career (hewould go on to intercept a pass thrown

by DeShone Kizer of theGreenBayPackers in a September 9, 2018, Monday Night Football game, for a twenty-seven yard— 24.69m—touchdown). Through the 2018 season,Mackhadonly thosetwointerceptions inhis NFL career, both of which he returned for TD (touchdown).

Mack appears in a November 27, 2016, game against the Carolina Panthers where he intercepted a Cam Newton pass for a six-yard touchdown.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

First NFL Player to Record a Sack, Force a Fumble, Recover a Fumble, and Return an Interception for a TD in a Game

Mack’s first professional interception, the one that led tohis first NFL touchdown, happened in a game against the Carolina Panthers. This accomplishment was part of a historic day for Mack, ashecauseda fumble, recovereda fumble, andrecordedaquarterbacksack. Noplayer has checked off all of these defensive stat categories in the same game. More remarkable

is thatMackhaspulled thisofftwice.Heforced a fumble, recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass,andreturnedthat pass for a touchdown, while also sacking quarterbackDeShone Kizer in a 2018 game against the Green Bay Packers (his first as a memberoftheChicago Bears).

Mack pulled off the historic sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception, and interception return for a touchdown combi- nation in a November 27, 2016, game against the Carolina Panthers.


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

First Career NFL Sack Mack, in a November 16, 2014, game against division rival San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers, recorded his first NFL sack. In a tight match, Mack rushed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers from the left side to make the fourth quarter play. The explosiveness he shows on the rush, along with his speed and power, gave a glimpse into just how special a player he is and of things to come for him in his NFL career. The sack was the first of four that Mack recorded in his rookie season and the first of fifty-three sacks that he

made in the first five years of his NFL career.

Mack gets the upper hand on his blocker in a division game against the San Diego (Los Angeles) Chargers to record his first NFL sack.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

Recipient of the Butkus Award The Butkus Award is named after Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus (of the Chicago Bears) and is presented annually to the best high-school, college, and professional player at that position. Mack’s 2016 seasonwas his best todate as a professional in theNFL, which led to a long-awaited playoff appearance for his Raiders team, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, and the Defensive Player of the Year award. He also stood out among some of the best linebackers in the NFL, including Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers (recipient

of the award three times in the NFL and once in college), C. J. Mosley of the Balti- moreRavens, andVon Miller of the Denver Broncos. For Mack’s efforts on the field, he was the recipient of the Butkus Award at the professional level.

A highlight of the plays that allowed Mack to stand out among the league’s best linebackers in order to win the Butkus Award.


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

First Playoff Appearance One of the things that Mack doeswell is to disrupt the flowof an offense. If he is notmaking a sackon thequarterbackwhenhe gets into thebackfield, Mack finds away tobring theball carrier down before he can gain any yards. Tackles for loss of yards (TFLs) are an important statistic for defensive players. It is used tomeasure their ability to get to the quarterback or stop a running play before it has a chance to develop. Mack had recorded fifty-three TFLs prior tohis first playoffgame on January 7, 2017, against theHoustonTexans. For the game

he recorded eleven tackles, including eight solo tackles and two tackles for loss. Not too shabby for a first playoff appear- ance; however, the Bears lost toHouston 27–14.

Mack shows his disruptive skills in the backfield, as seen in this tackle for a loss in his playoff game (at 2:25) against the Houston Texans, January 7, 2017.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

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