Dec 26, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) holds the lineman of the game trophy after defeating Bowling Green Falcons 30-27 to win the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Rams Recreating Fearsome Foursome with Jadeveon Cl...Scratch that...I mean--Aaron Donald


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)

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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)

 
Games Played
Sacks
Hits & Hurries
Total Tackles
Robert Quinn3229.510686
Chris Long322011773
William Hayes30124463
Michael Brockers299.52777
Kendall Langford3273471
Robert Quinn’s (age 23) sack total clearly stands out among the group that includes fellow defensive ends Chris Long (age 28) and William Hayes (age 28), and defensive tackles Michael Brockers (age 23) and Kendall Langford (age 28), however, all five members of the Rams’ defensive line rotation have stood out in one way or another during the past two seasons. Despite the impressive sack totals, and QB hits and hurries, the more impressive statistic may be that the Rams improved their average rushing yards per attempt allowed from 4.3 in 2012-2013 (19th lowest average among all 32 NFL teams) to 3.7 in 2013-2014 (tied for 2nd lowest average). It should be noted that the Rams’ defensive line excelled this past season despite not having an experienced defensive coordinator (who was fired after just one season). With all five of the Rams’ main defensive linemen being between the ages of 23 and 28, they also still have room to grow as a unit.
Dec 22, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) celebrates with defensive end Chris Long (91) after sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (not pictured) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the Buccaneers 23-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 22, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) celebrates with defensive end Chris Long (91) after sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (not pictured) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the Buccaneers 23-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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:

Donald Profile 1

Donald Profile 1 (CBS)

 (Courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com)

Donald Profile 1 (SI)

 (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.

Donald College Stats

(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.

 

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  • bk

    Why are you talking about these guys? Don’t you know Michael Sam has a reality show? C’mon, get with the program… You know, the gay guy who wants to make it on his own and be one of the guys?
    LOL… yeah right… good luck having a good training camp with Oprah’s crew running around waiting for a perceived homophobic comment or act…

    • Nathan Kearns

      #troll

      • rmfp

        Troll for speaking the truth. That’s all I’ve seen on the news Sam this Sam that. How about the rest of the draftees that went before him. I can care less the dudes gay. I’m just sick of hearing about it. And if some players speaks the truth and says its a distraction or he feels uncomfortable hell be tarred and feathered by the media

        • ricdram

          The article was about ADonald & The
          Fearsome Foursome. Why is bk bringing
          up Sams? Why are you defending bk?
          Anthony WAS COVERING ONE OF THE OTHER DRAFTEES>ADonald. ” READ “.

          • Nathan Kearns

            +1

          • rmfp

            You got me, you guys are so cool. I hope one day I can be as cool as you. When I read his comment I thought he was making a joke on how the media has Sam on a pedestal. 7th rd pick, we get it he’s gay now let’s give props to the other draftees. I mean for god sakes they cut in on judge Judy just to hear Sam talk, they could care less about the other rookies. The only way its ok to cut in while judge Judy is showing would be if Peyton manning decided to play for the rams

  • Gary Stewart

    lets look at clowney vs donald, 1. better scheme fit , donald in a landslide 2. lower cost donald by a wide margin 2 vs 13, and additionally had they gotten clowney they would not have gotten robinson this is a no brainer donald by a wide margin. anyone really feel any different??