Can Aaron Donald Win Defensive Player of the Year?


When it comes to defensive player of the year, just a couple of players are usually brought up in the conversation. Those players are JJ Watt, Luke Kuechly, and Josh Norman. You could even thrown Tyrann Mathieu‘s name in there. However, one name that is consistently left out of the conversation or forgotten about is Aaron Donald.

These types of awards, while we wouldnt like to think its a popularity contest, some aspects of it are. A guy like Aaron Donald, while dominant, won’t get as much attention or votes as a guy like JJ Watt who is marketed very well.

Watt is a great player, but Donald should very much be in consideration for this year’s award if not even win it and he is a name that is being left out of the conversation. In’s group of analysts, Donald got one vote while Watt got seven, Mathieu got four, Kuechly got two, and Khalil Mack, Reggie Nelson, and Donald all got one.

The Rams’ defensive line is filled with first round picks, but Donald is of a different nature. After a dominant rookie season, he continued his devastating trend of crushing plays becoming even more  nightmare to block.

The amazing part about that is, the Rams were without an elite defensive player in Robert Quinn, not to mention Chris Long for a good part of the season of the season. Even with the focus being on him Donald continued his high level of play and elevated everyone around him.

In fact, Michael Brockers earned the best grade of his career for a full season on Pro Football Focus which was almost twice as good as his previous best.

It was because of this that Pro Football Focus named Aaron Donald their defensive player of the year. In fact Watt finished second runner up and and Mathieu fourth. Meanwhile, Donald is barely getting any recognition from main network analysts.

According to PFF Donald led all “true” interior players in both total pressures and defensive stops, and played the run as well as anybody in football ranking fifth in the NFL among defensive tackles, with three of the four players above him run-stuffing specialists at nose tackle.

Donald notched 79 total pressures, 51 defensive stops, missed just two tackles, and was a more consistent dominant force than any other defensive player in football this season. The defensive tackle had 11 sacks this season, the most of any inside player, and he had 21 tackles for a loss. The stats suggest that he is right on track to match Watt’s dominance, and this year actually surpassed anything Watt has ever achieved over a single season in PFF history.

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A couple of years ago it was Robert Quinn who was up for defensive player of the year and this year it is now Aaron Donald. Unfortunately it looks like both players are going to miss out, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t dominant.

Donald will get his recognition. He’s only in his second year. Back to back losing seasons doesn’t help Donald’s case either. If the Rams start winning, it’s only a matter of time before players like Donald get recognized.

The NFL’s honor program Saturday night at 9PM ET when the defensive player of the year will be announced.