Shortly after rookie Tua Tagovailoa was announced as the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback, many Dolphins fans went to social media with the same concern.
Tagovailoa has to face Aaron Donald in his first start.
There’s no scarier defender in the NFL. Donald is a force of nature from his defensive tackle position with the Los Angeles Rams, unblockable even with two offensive linemen assigned to him. Last week, the San Francisco 49ers had a clear plan to have Jimmy Garoppolo get rid of the ball fast, sometimes on throws behind the line of scrimmage. It seemed a big part of that plan was to keep Donald from ruining their offense.
Donald is the Chicago Bears’ problem in Week 7. The Rams face the Bears on Monday night, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
Donald will be the best player on the field. That might be true every game he plays.
Aaron Donald is unstoppable
It’s hard to put current players in a proper historical context. We like to wait until their careers are done to view the whole picture and start comparisons. We’re only comfortable arguing a few current athletes’ legacies while they’re still being written. Players like Tom Brady and LeBron James reach that status.
Maybe Donald should be on that list, too.
Donald has played six full seasons. He has made six Pro Bowls and been first-team All-Pro each of the last five seasons. He has two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and is the easy favorite to win it this season. The only players in NFL history to win three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards are Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt.
Donald ranks first among interior defensive linemen with at least 200 snaps in Pro Football Focus’ grades for this season. He ranked first in 2019, first in 2018, first in 2017, first in 2016 and first in 2015. As a rookie in 2014, he was second behind Watt.
Beyond the awards, accolades and stats, Donald’s greatness is obvious every time the Rams play. He has freakish quickness and athleticism for a man his size. And when he gets a shot on the quarterback, he doesn’t miss.
Could Donald be the greatest defensive player ever?
Donald is 29 years old. He leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks and Pro Football Focus has him with 36 pressures, which is the most in the league. He’s well within his prime and is going to add to his resume.
Even if Donald retired now, he has a significant place in NFL history. He seems like a lock to make the Hall of Fame. While he has almost no shot to win an MVP because voters have a blind spot for quarterbacks, Donald is probably the NFL’s best player. PFF does a top-50 list before each season, and Donald has been No. 1 four straight years. It’s hard to argue against that ranking, either.
Is Donald, the only defensive tackle to post a 20-sack season, already the best defensive tackle ever? Joe Greene might argue, but Donald already has a great argument for it and he’s still at the top of his game. Might Donald be the best defensive player ever? Some will always argue for Taylor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Reggie White, Dick Butkus, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Greene all could be the right answer, too.
If Donald wins a couple more Defensive Player of the Year awards, or takes three more All-Pro honors to tie the record for a defensive player (the record is eight, shared by a handful of defensive players including White, Taylor and Smith), then his argument will be pretty good, even against some of the game’s legends.
Those are debates for down the road, when Donald is done playing. For now, we can just appreciate his greatness. The Bears might not enjoy it too much on Monday night.
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