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Mel Kiper Jr. Gives Rams’ Aaron Donald Defensive Rookie of the Year Honors

ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. named his all-rookie team on Wednesday. He also handed out the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors...

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On September 4, 2014 ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. wrote this piece on his preseason all-rookie team.  In it, he made note of Rams’ rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald:

I don't believe it's a matter of if with Donald, only when. He won't be able to dominate interior blockers like he did at Pitt, but he's going to create negative plays with full reps.

Kiper certainly wasn’t wrong.  Donald played in all 16 games in 2014, starting in 9.  He finished 5th in the NFL in tackles for loss, with 18.  He finished second on the team behind Robert Quinn, and 20th in the league, in sacks with 9.  An extremely impressive rookie campaign garnered attention throughout the season, as the rookie DT caused fits in the opposition’s backfield.  As a result of his stellar play, Donald has become the first Rams’ rookie since Jerome Bettis [1993] to be named to the Pro Bowl.

And his play continues to grab attention, even though the Rams’ season has come to an end.  Kiper Jr. revisited the NFL’s rookie class on Wednesday morning, lining up the best at each position.  He’s giving the Offensive Rookie of the Year honors to Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

On defense?

Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

Donald had an uphill battle to get here, because while he wasn't injured, like Beckham, he also was largely quiet during the first month of the season as a non-starter. But once Donald started to get starter reps (Week 6) he was easily one of the best defensive tackles in football. Only Marcell Dareus had more sacks among true defensive tackles (10.0 to 9.0) and Donald not only was near the QB more often than Dareus in terms of hurries, he also was a major disruptor against the run. Donald really has it all and the Rams' D-line is in remarkably good shape going forward.

Others considered: Khalil Mack, C.J. Mosley

Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk also deemed Donald 2014’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Yesterday, over at MMQB, Peter King and the group took votes on both offensive and defensive rookie of the year.  Donald finished with 15 first place votes...10 more than both Mack and Mosley.  

Earlier this week, on the Fox pre-game show, Hall-of-Famer and father of Rams’ defensive end Chris Long, Howie Long also paid tribute to a phenomenal rookie year.

It seems to be a common theme.  And deservedly so.

The night before Super Bowl XLIX, the NFL will salute its best players and plays from the 2014 season with "NFL Honors." The two-hour special airs on January 31, 2015 at 9 PM ET on NBC.  Red carpet coverage begins at 8pm ET.

We’ll have to wait at least another month but it appears, in the eyes of many, the most impressive rookie on the defensive side of the ball was drafted 13th overall by the St. Louis Rams.