Today, PFF posted their top 25 with one Ram coming in at #1 overall: DT Aaron Donald:
Dethroning J.J. Watt from atop of the PFF Top 101 takes some serious production. Coming into this season, Watt was the No. 1 name on the list for three straight years following his breakout sophomore campaign, and it looked like he would remain there as long as he stayed on the field. For Aaron Donald to force himself into the same kind of echelon already in his career is truly staggering.
Donald was the highest-graded interior defender in the league, and in his second season—just like Watt—he pushed that grade into the stratosphere. The Rams’ star may not have posted the kind of numbers Watt did, but Donald played exclusively inside as a defensive tackle, whereas Watt has become a true edge rusher, a position that typically generates far better stats than their interior teammates. Donald still ended the season with 79 total pressures and 51 defensive stops, and actually gained more pressure on a per-rush basis than the Texan.
Donald may have the quickest first step in the game among linemen, and was a constant presence in the backfield of offenses, blowing up plays against the run and pass with frightening regularity. He may not have the ideal size that teams look for, but there was no better NFL player in 2015.
Best performance: Week 1 versus Seattle: +10.7
Key stat: Aaron Donald was the highest-graded player in the NFL last season (99.9 on PFF’s new 1–100 scale).
Donald came in at #18 on their list a year ago after his rookie season, and his growth in 2015 is reflected in the jump to #1 this offseason. PFF even posted an additional piece analyzing how they quantified Donald's dominance in 2015.
There's no question he's a dominant force already after just two years in the NFL. What's unique about Donald is how he applies his game. He's not the biggest or strongest lineman, two attributes you generally associate with defensive tackles. It's his quickness and directness that separates him from his peers. Were it not for size concerns, he likely wouldn't have dropped to the Rams at #13 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
As the franchise turns shifts course to align itself with the career of franchise QB Jared Goff, most of the attention will be paid to him, his receiving options and reigning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley. While the media may gloss over him, Rams fans shouldn't forget that the most talented player on the roster right now is on the defensive side of the ball.
That's not likely to change any time soon.