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2016 Rams Roster Preview: DT Aaron Donald May be the Best Defender in the NFL

The Rams' best player has ascended the NFL ranks about as quickly as possible. What does 2016 hold for AD99?

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Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald is a beast.

There's simply no other way to put it. According to Pro Football Focus, Donald was the NFL's top performer in 2015:

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).

Unfortunately for Donald, his fellow players don't seem to think as highly of him. He was ranked 14th in the NFL as chosen by the players and was the 4th defender listed behind J.J. Watt, Josh Norman, and Khalil Mack. That's as much to do with the Rams' lack of national coverage as anything else.

Perhaps the move to Los Angeles could put Donald on the same tier as those players in the eyes of the national media.

Roster Battle

Donald will be in the starting lineup along with fellow DT Michael Brockers. There is absolutely no doubting that. With Nick Fairley departing for the New Orleans Saints and being replaced with Dominique Easley, it's possible that Donald will be on the field even more in 2016.

That could be a good thing and a bad thing. Donald was on the field for nearly 80% of the Rams defensive snaps last season. Could a further increase in snaps jeopardize his durability? He's been incredibly durable thus far, and I sincerely hope that continues.


Continued health and dominance. Donald has reached All-Pro status at a tremendous pace. Will he plateau or push his game to another level? He's the most disruptive DT since Warren Sapp, and he's still only 25-years old.

Reaching double digit sacks and/or 25 tackles for a loss would be phenomenal for Donald. More importantly, he needs to continue to be disruptive. If he continues to be a force, he will continue to open up lanes for other defensive playmakers.

Chances of Making the Roster (10/10)

Aaron Donald is the best defender on the Rams. He's going to be on the roster. The bigger question here is if the Rams are fiscally prepared to extend him after the season.