Making a case for the Rams as an NFC West contender

12 Rams defensive players grade positively in Week 1, led by a potential DPOY candidate in Aaron Donald.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Making a case for the Rams as an NFC West contender

Coming off back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl, many experts once again penciled in the Seahawks as the 2015 NFC West Champions prior to the season.

Let’s pump the brakes on that assumption — if DT Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams’ defense plays as well as they did Week 1, St. Louis could capture its first division title since 2003.

A first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft out of Pitt, Donald wasted no time establishing himself as one of the premier interior defensive lineman in football. As a rookie, Donald graded out as PFF’s highest-rated defensive tackle, even above the likes of perennial greats Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. Donald ranked fifth at his respective position in both pass-rushing and run defense, a testament to how versatile of a player he truly is.

Aside from Broncos OLB DeMarcus Ware, Donald earned the highest grade of any defensive player for Week 1 (yes, even above Texans DE J.J. Watt at 9.3). He recorded two sacks, seven tackles, and seven stops — all most among interior defensive lineman.

In all, the Rams had 12 defensive players grade out positive in our PFF ranking system, with the top six all being defensive lineman. It is no surprise that Russell Wilson (+0.1 overall) had a very long and largely ineffective afternoon on Sunday.

While it’s only one week, the talent the Rams have built on their defense cannot be overlooked. Donald is already a legitimate contender for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Rams’ defense makes them a serious threat to win the NFC West.

Ryan Smith has been with PFF since 2015 and is a media correspondent for the Miami Dolphins and Iowa Hawkeyes.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Unfortunately for the Rams even if they were contenders who would care…St. Louis is and always will be a baseball town.

    • FisherStache

      Hahaha there is no such thing as a Baseball Town. That is just a tired trope for “your other sports team(s) isn’t very good.” The Cardinals have been one of the most winning teams of the past decade or so, of course people would attend. When the Rams were winning (and had an owner willing to show up), the Dome was full. It’s pretty simple, but can’t blame people for being born yesterday.

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    • bird

      Somebody must not remember 1999 – 2002

    • GrantSTL

      That is such a lazy statement, I’m so sick of people saying this. St. Louis is a sports town, the Rams had a historically bad run that would have damaged the fanbase in 9/10 markets. they haven’t had a winning season since ’03. If they were not threatening relocation the Dome would be filled to capacity for the remainder of the season after the win last week.

  • PetEng

    And how many of those positively graded players were below average in much larger sample sizes (2013/2014)?

    Donald is a special talent. Quinn is a special talent.

    That’s it. Linebacking is weak. Secondary is weak.

    • Brenden

      Uh, Ogletree is a much improved player. #55 is solid. TJ McDonald is turning into a very good safety, and Tru flashed some real good play as well. The defense has talent beyond the Line.

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