Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle, Los Angeles Rams
(TD: #2, RC: #11, CT: #3, RR: #3, DH: #10, DP: #8, RT: #9)
In just his second season in the NFL Aaron Donald has become on of the very best players in the league.
It’s hard to put into words just how brutally destructive Donald was. As a defensive tackle it’s easy for your contribution to go unnoticed, until you’re killing quarterbacks with such regularity that it becomes the norm.
Let’s start with Donald’s stat line… 22 tackles for loss (3rd in the NFL), 37 QB hits (2nd in the NFL), 11 sacks (= 1st at his position). That is amazing, not only for Donald’s age and inexperience but also that someone at his position could be so ruthlessly devastating that he puts veterans to shame in the trenches. Let’s have a look at how he manages to do it.
Donald, #99, is meant to be getting downblocked by Trent Williams. Normally this is a pretty simple block for a tackle and Williams is far better than your average tackle, but Donald is just too damn fast. He doesn’t directly influence this play but it’s a great example of Donald’s ridiculous speed off the snap that makes him such a nightmare to try and block. His speed not only makes Trent Williams look like an idiot but it also takes out the pull action of the center.
Speed is good. But what if someone gets a jump on him? Well, that doesn’t always work either. Here is veteran guard Logan Mankins, albeit at the end of his career, getting tossed aside with one arm and some strong footwork. Mankins gets a good step off the ball on Donald, and is then just dominated.
Speed + power can still be beaten by technique and positioning. But guess what? Donald has that too.
Arizona’s offensive line was much improved in 2015. Particularly on the left side where tackle Jared Veldheer and guard Mike Iupati opened up lanes against all comers. Against Donald? Not so much…
Here is Donald, absorbing a double team from them with terrific body position and then getting an arm out to help make the tackle. It’s ridiculous how good he was in 2015 as he ate up blocks, forced protections and game plans to be schemed around him and generally gave offensive lines nightmares. There is a strong case that he was the best player in the NFL last season. Pro Football Focus ranked him as such, Pro Football Reference had him at #2. Donald was truly brilliant in 2015 and this time next year we may be talking about him giving JJ Watt a challenge for the title of “best defender in football”.