The history of the National Football League is littered with great defensive players who completely transformed the sport, and through their dominance became transcendental legends. Mighty defensive players landed earth shaking hits that rattled everyone on the field. Players like Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mike Singleterry have been absolute defensive stalwarts during their career. But all of those players dominated the NFL in the 20th century. As far as 21st century defensive players are concerned, there is definitely no one better than the LA Rams Defensive Tackle, Aaron Donald. In this post, we will take a look at his amazing career (so far) and discuss why he is one of the GOATs of the NFL. Let’s get started.
Aaron Donald: On The Pinnacle Of Absolute Greatness
Listing some of the best defensive players in NFL history, it’s a no-brainer to mention Lawrence Taylor, who completely revolutionized the linebacker position and Ed Reed for his unique combination of intelligence and athleticism that made playing him an absolute must-have. He turned playing the safety position into a game of chess. But with no disrespect to Taylor or Reed, or a few other defensive icons like Reggie White, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders, or Joe Greene, it’s not far fetched to say Rams DT Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in all time, and who could go down in history as one of the most iconic players in the history of professional sports.
How profound is Aaron Donald’s impact?
What Aaron Donald has accomplished since he came to the NFL in 2014, when the Rams selected him with the 13th pick in that year’s draft, is simply impressive.
Let’s quickly review his career so far:
- He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, and was a Pro Bowl selection that same year.
- Was 1st-team All-Pro in 2015
- Was 1st-team All-Pro in 2016
- He was 1st-team All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in 2017
- He was 1st-team All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in 2018
- Was 1st-team All-Pro in 2019
- He was 1st-team All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in 2020
- He was 1st-team All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in 2020
If for whatever reason Aaron Donald never played a single down in the NFL again, with his accomplishments to date he is guaranteed to be a Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility. If we break Donald’s career into two parts, let’s say the first 4 years and the last 3, in each part there is a complete case worthy of being immortalized in bronze in Canton, Ohio.
What do other NFL players think of Aaron Donald?
The impact that Aaron Donald has had since he arrived in the NFL has not gone unnoticed, as a large majority of players in the league recognize him as the most dominant player today.
Legendary Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman had this to say about Aaron Donald in January of this year:
“I played Reggie White, and I played Lawrence Taylor…and I have to tell you, Aaron Donald is the best defensive player I’ve ever seen. Donald is remarkable – he should be the NFL’s defensive player of the year, and he should also get votes to be the league’s MVP.”
Statistically comparing Aaron Donald with Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White gives us clarity on the level of production that the Rams tackle has had since he arrived in the NFL.
We can start by comparing the effectiveness of the 3 sacking the QB since the league started counting sacks as an official stat in 1982. With only 7 seasons, Aaron Donald already has a better average of sacks per year than Lawrence Taylor and is slightly below Reggie White’s average per year.
However, it’s important to contextualize that Aaron Donald is a defensive tackle, he presses from inside the line of scrimmage, which is much more complicated than what White was doing pressing from the outside as a defensive end.
Today there are official statistics that were not recorded when Taylor and White played, but according to Pro Football Focus, Aaron Donald is by far the most disruptive defensive tackle in the entire NFL since 2015 as he has led the league in QB rushes and total QB pressure.
Is Aaron Donald expected to get even better?
Aaron Donald is arguably the best Defensive Tackle in NFL history, and the most impressive thing he has accomplished is that he has done it in just 7 seasons, and he is barely 30 years old. Additionally, he has not suffered any significant injuries and has shown no signs of his performance slowing down as he was more disruptive than ever during the 2020 season.
The Los Angeles Rams started the 2021-2022 season as one of the favourites to conquer the NFC. They have Sean McVay who is an offensive genius, the acquisition of Matthew Stafford is a substantial improvement in QB, and they have Aaron Donald who is the best player in the league by position.
We are privileged to be able to watch Aaron Donald play at the height of his powers and to watch the unfolding of what is sure to be one of the most momentous and legendary careers in the history of the gridiron. He is already one of the best defensive players of all time, and sooner rather than later he could be recognized as simply the best of all time.
Did Aaron Donald retire from the NFL?
After playing with the possibility of retirement, not only will Aaron Donald continue to be part of the present and future of the Los Angeles Rams, but he will also do so with figures never before seen in NFL history for a player of his position.
As confirmed by the Rams, they reached an agreement to restructure Donald’s contract, with a salary increase that, according to Ian Rapoport’s report, will be no less than 40 million dollars. In this way, the defending Super Bowl champions will have the best defensive player in the league until 2024, for a value of around 95 million dollars.
Why is Aaron Donald’s new contract with the Los Angeles Rams historic?
This contract makes Donald the player with the highest average salary per year of all time, not counting quarterbacks. His average of 31.6 million per season exceeds the 30 million that a receiver like Tyreek Hill will receive in Miami. In addition, he leaves behind the 28 million per year of TJ Watt in Pittsburgh, who until Donald’s new contract stood out as the highest-paid defensive player in history.
How does Aaron Donald impact the game?
Donald had 12.5 sacks and a combined 84 tackles last season, including 19 for loss of yards, although his impact goes far beyond statistics and you only need to look back at the last Super Bowl against the Bengals to discover that he is one of the best defensive linemen of all time.
Individual distinctions also do him justice: he has seven consecutive All-Pro first teams, having been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his eight NFL seasons and already has three Defensive Player of the Year awards (finished in the Top 5 of the voting in all years, except when he was a rookie ). A legend who, at 31, still has much more rope in the league.
The Los Angeles Rams are a fearsome team on offense, the stats don’t lie: second in the NFL in scoring, third in rushing yards and fifth in passing yards. His quarterback, Jared Goff, is a former number 1 draft pick. He has the most dangerous running back in the league, Todd Gurley (23 touchdowns this season), and has brought in another back, CJ Anderson, who gives him quality rest. And his two receiving arrows, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, have more than 2,500 yards gained between them this year.
Aaron Donald is not just any player but the best headhunter in the NFL. He has the ability to break the opposing pitcher’s line of defense at will, he leads the league with 20.5 sacks (quarterback tackles) and Tom Brady is the next name on his extensive hit list. Not bad at all for a guy who was written off by most scouts because he was too short by their standards.
Donald is faster and stronger than the huge attack lines that try to contain him, which are usually 20 centimeters taller. Donald is “just” six feet tall, his lower center of gravity allows him to twist, turn and change directions that leave anyone trying to stop him sitting. If this doesn’t work, resort to his brute force: his 129 kg of pure muscular power makes him a challenge for anyone.
What did Aaron Donald say to his father?
When, with one game remaining in the current regular season, Aaron broke the record for sacks for a defensive tackle, his position, he sent a message to his father that said: “You created this monster”. And on this occasion, it is rigorously true because he is a lethal weapon chiseled by the obsession of his father.
Aaron Donald’s father Archie Donald was going to be a football player but suffered a serious injury when he was playing at Norfolk State University, putting everything to rest. He settled in a suburb of Pittsburgh and raised his children through various moonlighting jobs. The only luxury he allowed himself is to install a modest gym in the basement of the house to get his daily workouts. “My brother and I affectionately called it ‘The Dungeon,’” recalls Aaron.
When he was 12 years old, Donald Sr. introduced his youngest son to strength training because he thought it would be a way to instill in him that you have to work hard to achieve important goals. Every day he woke Aaron Donald up at 4:30 in the morning and for two hours he pounded himself in ‘The Dungeon’ before going to school. At first, it was difficult for him but soon it was the boy who asked for more weight, more pressure, and more challenges.
That made him a physical wonder but also sharpened his mind. And the result was an extraordinary competitor.
How was Aaron Donald recruited out of high school?
Already in high school, he raised eyebrows but only three universities offered him scholarships due to an argument that he would hear many times: “He is a great player but too short.” He chose Pittsburgh to be close to home and by his senior year was already considered one of the best defenders in the country. And yet, some of the NFL scouts who came to see him were still blinded by the stigma of his height. When they asked his father about him, Archie would shake his head. “It doesn’t matter how tall you are. There’s no stopping my boy, he’s unstoppable.”
One of the few who knew Aaron would have a great future in the NFL was Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle, who saw him in action his senior year in college and was amazed. He begged his superiors to bet on him in the 2014 draft. Waufle was then 67 years old and three years later, in 2017, he would retire, but his insistence paid off and the then Saint Louis Rams – the franchise was then in Missouri – chose him with the 13th pick in the first round.
Donald stood out as the monster he is from the beginning: defensive rookie of the year, 5 times in the Pro Bowl, and best defender in the League… The most obvious example of the respect he commands among his peers is that in the internal vote that each year The NFL performs among the players to decide who are the best in the League (the ‘top-100’), Aaron appears as the seventh most valued and it is likely that this season he will climb a few more steps.
He has never forgotten that it all started in his father’s ‘The Dungeon’ and he has been very grateful to him. After becoming one of the highest-paid players in the league ($41 million this season), he gave him a new house and a generous monthly allowance so he can stop working. The only condition he put on it is that he not sell his old house in Pittsburgh because in his basement he forged the beast he is today.