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PFF Teaching Tape: The Rise Of Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald

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The PFF team takes a look at why Aaron Donald is an exception to the rule.

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Miami Dolphins v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It’s the 2014 NFL Draft. The Los Angeles Rams are on the clock at pick #13. Time’s ticking, the fans anxiously waiting to hear who their second first-round pick would be after taking OT Greg Robinson at #2 overall. And when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell muttered the words “Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pitt” hardly anyone knew what the significance was.

Fast forward three years, and Aaron Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time first team all-pro, 2014 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, and arguably the NFL’s best and most dominant player.

People take notice.

Pro Football Focus have largely been major advocates for Donald. In 2015, AD ranked as the best player in the league according to PFF, AD landed at the #2 spot after this past season.

Today, PFF’s Michael Renner has a tape breakdown analyzing Donald’s game, and I tell you, it’s worth looking at:

While many basic scouting cutoffs of size/speed/length/etc. have come from legitimate concerns, any hard-fast rule will have its exceptions. And it’s difficult to find a bigger exception than Aaron Donald. That’s why this Teaching Tape is a little different than all the others in that usually I’m highlighting how a scheme conforms to talent. When talking about Donald, the scheme really doesn’t matter. The man could probably play off-ball linebacker at a high level. That’s how talented he is. What matters is how his immense skill set transcends all schemes and preconceived notions about how defensive tackle is supposed to be played.

This is great, and should mellow Rams fans worried about AD’s switch to the 3-4. Firstly, like Renner said, Donald’s game transcends the scheme. Regardless of where he plays and what he’s asked to do, he’ll excel. Now, with that being said, one of the greatest defensive coordinators in the history of the NFL in new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips will not misuse Aaron, and I’d only expect for his game to reach a new peak if there even is one.

Look at this tweet I posted of AD working from LE last year against the Bucs:

Back to the article:

With his size/speed combination, he has three things he can use to his advantage: quickness, leverage and lack of a strike zone. This allows him to knife into the sweet spot of a double team and not let either linemen engage him cleanly.

Pretty incredible when he was basically triple teamed on the play and still wound up not only holding his ground, but also getting involved on the tackle.

Let’s not forget that he is also the best interior pass rusher in the NFL:

Now, with all that being said, Donald is expected to be the leader and forefront of this defense. If everyone else can stay healthy and follow, Phillips may be able to spark magic with this group, which has always been considered a very solid unit. Lastly, these clips surely wont be doing the Rams any favors at the bargaining table, which will likely result in Aaron Donald becoming the richest defensive player in NFL history.