LA Rams Aaron Donald: Ode to the living NFL legend
By Bret Stuter
The recent comments from second-year Dallas Cowboys player Micah Parsons, where he nonchalantly claims that he will be as good, if not better than, LA Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald does not sit well with me. I’m not here to refute the fact that Kiser can be a very good player for the Cowboys someday, I’m not happy that he thinks it’s something he can just say he will do and then do it.
It’s not that easy. Let’s talk about why.
The fact of the matter is that there may not be another Aaron Donald in the NFL for 20 years. He is generationally awesome. That’s not just off-season hype of the “I’m gonna,” variety. That’s just the fact, jack. What do I mean? Well, let’s start with the basics. On defense, the LA Rams play a 3-4 defensive front, allowing edge rushers to win one-on-one battles while their main defensive player, Aaron Donald, oftentimes confronts two or three blockers on each play.
And yet, he still produces quarterback sacks:
His 98 sacks in eight NFL seasons is an average of 12.25 quarterback sacks per season over eight NFL seasons. And he’s done that as a down lineman, facing multiple blockers, on each and every play. So there’s that. But let’s flip the page to the true impact of Aaron Donald.
Don’t confuse defensive scheme with star talent
Young players arrive in the NFL, put up good numbers, and scream for attention. But the real game-changers, those elite defensive standouts that the LA Rams are interested in adding, do not need to talk about their own individual accomplishments. In fact, you cannot measure their impacts with individual stats.
You measure their impact by the way everyone plays around them.
The Dallas Cowboys structure their defense to place one guy in the pass rush slot. In 2017-18 that player was Demarcus Lawrence. In 2019, the player was Robert Quinn. In 2020, that pass rush spot was split between Lawrence and Randy Gregory. In 2021, the role was that of Micah Parsons. Nothing special, just a new name to a familiar role. And everyone who lines up on the defensive front is doing their job to free up Parsons. Nobody who lines up next to him will get paid huge dollars on their next contract by another team.
The star on the helmet is also on Parsons.
Line up next to Aaron Donald? You get paid
For Aaron Donald, the pattern is undeniable. Line up next to the guy? NFL defenders put up career-high stats, and then convert that into record paydays. That’s the pattern for OLB Donte Fowler Jr., ILB Cory Littleton, and even OLB Leonard Floyd. Floyd was clever enough to recognize how his fit alongside Donald was ideal and re-signed with the LA Rams. The same impact helped to rejuvenate OLB Von Miller’s career. If my suspicions are correct, he will not have nearly the impact on the Buffalo Bills defense that the team hoped.
Aaron Donald is not just a guy who plays to pad his stats. He is not a guy who the defense plans to free up on every play. He is a team guy, a player who willingly faces multiple blockers knowing that will free up a teammate.
In four postseason games, Donald averages a quarterback sack per game and over three tackles per game. That’s incredible work for a guy who lines up as the number one blocking priority in each and every game he competes.
Aaron Donald puts up some incredible statistics over the course of an NFL season. But if you focus on stats alone you are missing most of what he is doing to help his team win. In the end, to be as good as Aaron Donald, you have to stop telling everyone how good you are going to be. At Aaron Donald’s level of play, you perform and then let everyone else talk about how well you play.
And that, in the end, is something that young hopefuls never seem to understand.