Rams’ Aaron Donald worthy of Defensive Player of the Year

With a dominant performance on TNF, Donald is in the DPOY conversation with Kuechly, Watt, Mack, and Mathieu.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

(AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

Rams’ Aaron Donald worthy of Defensive Player of the Year

There is plenty of debate as to who will win the various awards in the NFL this season, including MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year, but the latter might be the most difficult of the group.

At least with MVP, we know a quarterback will likely win—the debate there is between different QBs. For defenders, choices are all over the map. If you want a defensive back, you can pick between Josh Norman or Tyrann Mathieu, for linebacker there is Luke Kuechly, and if you want an edge rusher, there is Khalil Mack. However, if you want an interior lineman, Aaron Donald is proving himself to be the top candidate. He continued to demonstrate why he’s so deserving on Thursday Night Football, with another strong showing against the Buccaneers.

As a pass rusher, he has a 12.1 pass rushing productivity, second-best among defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. He has 11 sacks, 20 hits, and 32 hurries on his 414 pass rushes. The only player ahead of him is Geno Atkins. He has the same number of sacks, 12 fewer hits, and 17 more hurries. You could argue you would rather have 12 hits than 17 hurries, which would make Donald the top interior rusher of the season. He continued that pace last night, with a three-hit, three-hurry performance.

In terms of stopping the run, Donald’s run stop percentage of 11.1 percent is fourth-best among defensive tackles. It’s worth noting that he is the only one in the top seven who doesn’t primarily play nose tackle. He had three stops in the run game against the Buccaneers, with all three of them registering as tackles for a loss.

Part of what makes him so impressive is his consistency. He has a positive grade in every game this season, and a grade of +4.3 or higher in each of his last eight games. In terms of just pass rushing, Donald has at least one pressure in every game, and at least three pressures in each of the last nine games. With only two missed tackles on the year, he has the right mix of making big plays (regardless of the opponent), while also rarely ever making a mistake.

Donald’s main competition on the defensive line will come from J.J. Watt, who currently has a PFF overall season grade of 95.6, compared to Donald’s own mark of 98.7 (on a scale of 1–100). Donald has a higher pass rushing productivity, which is especially impressive, considering Watt typically lines up across or outside the offensive tackle—while Donald typically lines up somewhere inside. Against the run, Watt owns 29 run stops, compared to Donald’s 33. Add in the fact that Watt has four more missed tackles and three more penalties, and the case adds up that Donald is clearly ahead at the moment.

While arguments could be made for players at other positions with different skill sets for Defensive Player of the Year, if the winner is going to be an interior defensive linemen, the choice is clear: Aaron Donald.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    the AP voters don’t know how to properly watch a three tech linemen work, so the award will still end up going to luke.

  • Tito Puente

    Here’s my (highly nuanced) argument for Khalil Mack as DPOY.


  • crosseyedlemon

    A players chances at winning awards improves if he is in a major media market and on a playoff team and unfortunately Donald doesn’t have either of those things working in his favor.