LA Rams News: What is DL Aaron Donald’s ceiling this year?

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

LA Rams News: What exactly is DL Aaron Donald’s ceiling this year? By keeping Michael Brockers and adding A’Shawn Robinson, the sky is the limit.

A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. But when theorizing about the potential for LA Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald, we have to take the opposite approach. We had recently lost a great country singer, Charlie Daniels, who made a song – The Devil Went Down To Georgia- famous.  You see, when the Devil Went Down to Georgia, he looked up the best fiddle player in the entire state and bet a fiddle of gold against his soul.  So in a similar fashion, if that Devil stepped onto a football field, what production would the Devil need to record to keep football cleats against Aaron Donald?

We know that when it comes to defensive linemen, the number of quarterback sacks is the gold standard. The most quarterback sacks ever recorded in an NFL season is 22.5 sacks, recorded by New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.  Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald is tied at the seventh spot on that all-time list with 20.5. But there is one subtle difference. Donald is a down lineman in a 3-4 defensive front.

So Suh?

Donald’s sack totals, while always running at a very good amount, has averaged 12.0 sacks per season for six NFL years. Still, there was no season like the year he lined up next to another NFL great defensive lineman, Ndamukong Suh. In that year, he put up his best sack total, 20.5.  As indicated, that is the seventh most sacks in the history of the NFL. But is that his max? There are reasons to believe it’s not.

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Donald is entering his seventh NFL season. That’s the beginning of a defensive lineman’s prime. And he’s never been in better shape of his NFL career. But perhaps most of all, he has a new defensive coordinator who is debuting with the LA Rams in Brandon Staley. In order for Staley to have a long-lasting career in the NFL, he cannot squander opportunities. Opportunites such as coaching two All-Pro defenders like Donald and teammate defensive back Jalen Ramsey.

Reasonable return with Robinson

Donald is so incredibly versatile, but he is one of the few defenders in the NFL who can devastate in so many roles on the defense. But one of his most effective roles for the team has been that of nose tackle. When he slides inside, he forces the majority of the offense to compensate for his presence in the heart of the football field.  Unless the offense commits two or three blockers at him, they will quickly find Donald in the backfield making plays.  With the addition of A’Shawn Robinson, offenses will need to compensate for his powerful presence in the middle.

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Robinson has not been as isolated from the Rams’ defense as some might think. In fact, he’s rather familiar with his future teammates due to working out with them at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. That familiarity with Rams’ players goes both ways, as they are just as familiar with him. Fit is as important as potential, and Robinson scores highly in both areas. The defensive scheme Staley seeks to employ with the Rams depends heavily upon strong athletes upfront.  Now that the Rams have Donald, Robinson, and Michael Brockers, they are as strong as any defense upfront.  That will allow the Rams to set Robinson at NT, and both Brockers and Donald as defensive ends.

Donald does the double dozen

By doing so, and putting Donald on the strong side of the offense, the Rams can flush the quarterback out of the pocket by a successful pass rush from the weak side, into the path of an oncoming Donald.  Offenses will be forced to set a combination of tight end and offensive tackle against Donald, which will play right into the Rams’ hands. If Donald is able to generate an average of 1.5 sacks per game.  That would place Donald into the neighborhood of 24 quarterback sacks in a season.

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Keep in mind that quarterbacks will be forced to hold onto the ball longer this year because the Rams coverage boasts Ramsey. That raises the ceiling of Donald’s potential. At a time when many seem to be forgetting just what a defensive force Aaron Donald can be on defense, he will be happy to remind them.  This is a smoldering defense, and it will burst into a raging fire on opening day. 24 sacks will reset the NFL sack record. But it is within Rams’ Aaron Donald’s reach this year.