Pro Football Focus has released their top 50 players in the NFL heading into next season, and two Los Angeles Rams have made the list.
At #36, one of the Rams’ signings from this year’s free agency period made the cut:
#36.) LA Rams LT Andrew Whitworth
The only thing keeping Whitworth from being higher on this list is the fact that he is 35 years old and the inevitable knowledge that sooner or later he has to begin to display that reality on the field. Last season, Whitworth was once again one of the game’s best left tackles, and he allowed just 14 total pressures all season. Whitworth has allowed 44 total pressures over the past three seasons combined, which is 23 fewer than Chris Clark allowed for Houston last year alone.
There’s no doubt that Whitworth has been one of the best tackles in the NFL over the last five years. The question is one of fit and of longevity. As their write-up alludes to, no NFL career lasts forever. At 35, Whitworth is certainly approaching the end of his. If the Rams can get three quality seasons out of him before his contract ends, it would be a fantastic signing. Even if they only get one, it wouldn’t be horrible. As for fit, we’ll have to see. The offensive line has already gone significant personnel changes and could undergo even more throughout training camp and the preseason. How Whitworth gels with the rest of the line (chiefly the left side) and how they gel with him could be just as important as his individual play.
If you’re looking for a case for concern, you need not look further than when the Rams signed Jake Long in free agency. Long, like Whitworth, was highly thought of when the Rams signed him in 2012. Long arrived with some significant injuries in his immediate previous work, unlike Whitworth. Suffice to say...it was not a perfect signing.
Such are the questions of free agency even with a player as highly regarded as Whitworth. Here’s hoping it works out for both the player and the team.
On to the top of the list, where we find the Rams’ best player and, per PFF, the best player in the entire NFL:
1.) LA Rams DT Aaron Donald
With J.J. Watt injured in 2016, there has been no more consistently dominant force in the NFL over the past couple of seasons than Donald. The Rams defensive lineman has been a one-man wrecking crew inside whether against the run or as a pass-rusher. He has tallied a ridiculous 161 total pressures over the past two seasons, and 90 defensive stops, generating both pressure, and decisive pressure, at a completely different rate to any other defensive tackle.
We need say nothing of his play. He’s incredible. The end.
The elephant in the room is his contractual situation. Donald is in the last year of his four-year contract, but the Rams have already exercised the fifth-year option on him keeping him a Ram through the 2018 season. And as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell noted in a piece today on Donald and New York Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr., who is, like Donald, also a no-show at OTAs right now waiting for contract resolution, it doesn’t help the team to pay them right now. The Rams owe Donald just under $8.7m for the next two seasons. That’s a very low amount to pay the #1 overall player in the NFL. Consider that the Rams owe WR Tavon Austin just under $15m...for the 2017 season alone. So certainly, the Rams would prefer to get two cheap seasons out of Donald and perhaps tag him thereafter to get the best player in the NFL on the cheap. But he wouldn’t prefer that...and keeping him happy would be wise.
Thus, here we are. June 9th in Aaron Donald’s fourth NFL offseason with a contract extension possible, earned and requested by his camp, pleaded for by the fans, with reluctant approach from the team all for the NFL’s best player.
The 2017 season will be nothing if not terrifyingly interesting for the Rams and their two players on PFF’s Top 50 list.