Back in March, we addressed the possibility that the St. Louis Rams could be in a position to select defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and whether the Rams might be able to recreate the legendary ‘Fearsome Foursome‘ with Clowney added to a defensive line that already included Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, and William Hayes. As it turns out, Clowney was selected first overall by the Houston Texans, immediately eliminating that possibility. However, the Rams may have actually ended up with a player that is much more likely to help them recreate the ‘Fearsome Foursome’, after all: defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who fortunately fell to the Rams as the 13th overall pick in the draft.
(Courtesy of AP Photo/NFL Photos)
First, let us remind you again about the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ and the heyday of the Los Angeles Rams–between 1967 and 1980. During that era, the Rams were a combined 141-54-7, and were generally considered to be one of the premier teams in the National Football League. The older generation of Rams fans cherished the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ era that actually began in 1963 when the Rams acquired Rosey Grier from the New York Giants and added him to a defensive line that already included Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy. While the defensive line was undoubtedly fierce, the Rams didn’t have one winning season until they replaced Grier with Roger Brown in 1967. Over the following three seasons, the Rams were 32-7-3 and became truly dominant on defense. This revamped ‘Fearsome Foursome’ ushered in a 14-year stretch of dominance that the Rams had never experienced before, and outside of the relatively brief 5-year Greatest Shown on Turf era, have not even come close to matching since.
Well, with the Rams having led the NFL in sacks (with 105) over the past two seasons combined, invoking the moniker ‘Fearsome Foursome’ is more than just hyperbole and wishful thinking. Those cumulative statistics are shown in the following chart:
Rams Defensive Line Statistics 2012-2014 (courtesy of NFL.com and ProFootballFocus.com)
Hits & Hurries
Enter Aaron Donald. After the Rams addressed their glaring need on the offensive line by selecting Greg Robinson with the second overall pick, most fans and draft pundits expected the Rams to target a defensive back with their second pick in the first round. But the Rams were reportedly so enamored with Donald, that selecting him with the 13th overall pick was a no-brainer. Here’s a sampling of scouting profiles to explain why:
(Courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com)
(Courtesy of Chris Burke, Sports Illustrated)
When you see draft pundits routinely comparing Donald to the likes of John Randle and Geno Atkins, you have to feel pretty good about adding a player like that to a defense that already led the league in sacks over the past two seasons. Donald’s statistical production at the University of Pittsburgh supports those lofty comparisons.
(Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department)
During his last three seasons, Donald started 30 games and played in a total of 38 games. During that time, he had 27.5 sacks and 63 tackles for loss. After the 2013 season, he won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman (offensive or defensive), the Chuck Bednarik Award for being the defensive player of the year, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for being the nation’s most outstanding defensive player. Past winners of the Outland Trophy include Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden, Ndamukong Suh, Joe Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Rams 2011 draftee Barrett Jones. Past winners of the Chuck Bednarik Award include Warren Sapp, Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Ndamukong Suh. Past winners of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy include Warren Sapp, Charles Woodson, Terrell Suggs, Brian Orakpo, Ndamukong Suh, Luke Kuechly, Champ Bailey, and Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. In other words, Donald is in
pretty good great company.
Only time will tell if Donald will be able to serve as the disruptive presence that the Rams are hoping for in the middle of the defensive line–Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford have certainly solidified the interior of that line for the past two seasons, but aren’t known as rush-the-quarterback, disruptive linemen like John Randle and Warren Sapp were, and Geno Atkins is now. Had the Rams ended up drafting Jadeveon Clowney, he would have most likely been in a rotation with Quinn and Long, and/or out of position lining up at defensive tackle with Quinn and Long on the outside. There really wouldn’t have been any realistic scenario in which Clowney, Quinn, and Long could have regularly played a majority of snaps together. That concern does not exist with Donald, and if he can even come close to adding the type of dynamic created by the likes of Randle, Sapp, and Atkins, to the Rams’ interior defensive line, and barring any significant injuries, the Rams’ defensive line has all the makings of the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ that dominated the NFL for so many seasons during the Rams’ heyday. For now, we’ll leave you with some highlights from Donald’s award-winning 2013 season…the Rams certainly hope that they’ll be able to make a similar highlight video for Donald after the 2014-15 season.