Pro Football Focus has its lovers and its haters. We know one thing that PFF itself loves, though, and that’s Aaron Donald.
Before the 2020 NFL season, PFF named Donald the No. 1 player in football. Not just at his position, or on his team, or among defenders. In all of the NFL. Yes, ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and Christian McCaffrey and Stephon Gilmore and any other dominant player you can think of. Donald has kept up the production in 2020, on pace to come within half a sack of his career high.
In a social-media world that features one-handed catches, insane throws, and impressive stiff-arms, it’s easy to lose sight of just how good a 6-1 defensive tackle playing for the Los Angeles Rams is. Opposing offenses sure don’t forget how good Donald is, though. He’s at the center of their gameplans, and for good reason.
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Aaron Donald stats, sacks and more
Let’s stick with PFF for a little while. Here are the categories Donald leads all of football in since he entered the league in the 2014 draft out of Pittsburgh:
- Pressure rate (percentage of plays a defender pressures the quarterback)
- Pass-rush win rate (percentage of plays a defender beats his blocker, regardless of pressure)
- Pass-rushing grade
- Total pressures
In 2019, Donald dominated among interior defensive linemen. He had 80 pressures (next closest was 62). Donald’s pass-rush win percentage was 21.7%, more than four percentage points better than Kansas City’s Chris Jones. Since 2015, his lowest PFF pass-rushing grade (out of 100) was 92.8, and that was his 2019 rate that led the NFL.
Here are Donald’s PFF metrics in the regular season since 2015:
|Season||Pass-rush grade||Sacks||Hits||Hurries||Total pressures||Pass-rush win rate|
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Can anyone stop Aaron Donald?
Donald isn’t the prototypical defensive tackle, at least based solely on his measurables. At 6-1 and 280 pounds, he’s undersized for the classic view of the position. But in reality, that just means Donald is quicker and lower to the ground than many of the offensive linemen he’s trying to beat, all while being just as strong.
Seriously, how do you stop this?
Aaron Donald had a game wrecking day against the 49ers in week 7 of the 2018 season. #99 had FOUR sacks and numerous run stops for negative yardage! pic.twitter.com/RAGYf6tsfe
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) October 15, 2020
Before a matchup earlier this season, Bills quarterback Josh Allen recognized just how good Donald is: “He’s the best in the world at what he does and arguably the greatest to ever do it at that position.”
There are quotes like that everywhere: “One-man wrecking crew.” “A silent assassin.” “A cheat code.” “There’s no formula, there’s no recipe. He’s one of a kind.”
On a recent broadcast, NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth pointed out that offenses usually check to see where a particular linebacker or safety is aligned. But against the Rams, Collinsworth said, offenses paid attention to where No. 99 lined up.
That makes sense. If a quarterback forgets to pay attention to the best defensive player in football, it’s already too late.
Will Aaron Donald make the Hall of Fame?
Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only one player listed as a defensive tackle has ever reached the 100-sack total in their career (John Randle). Donald, at 79.5 through Week 6 of the 2020 season, will likely blow by that mark. At 29, he could have 50 or 60 more sacks in his career. If Donald recorded 60 more sacks, he’d be in the top 10 all time in the statistic and just sneak by Randle’s 137.5.
All those PFF numbers above should’ve proven to you that it isn’t just about sacks for Donald, of course. He recorded more pressures in 2016 with eight sacks than he did in 2019 with 14 sacks, for example. But it’s a good way to put into perspective just how remarkable Donald has been as a DT.
Donald isn’t just a pass-rusher, either. He’s led the NFL in tackles for loss each of the past two seasons, breaking the 20 TFL marks both times, despite being an interior defensive lineman. That rarely happens. You have to go back to Cornelius Griffin’s 2004 season to find another DT who broke 20 tackles for loss, and Donald has done it three times in his NFL career.
Pro Football Reference has a Hall of Fame Monitor. The average Hall of Fame defensive tackle has a HOF monitor rating of 114.5. Donald’s is already at 102.4. He’s increased that by more than 10 per season in his NFL career, so another average Donald season or two will put him firmly into the Hall of Fame. That’s exactly where the consistently best defensive player of an era belongs.