Aaron Donald is a very, very good football player. Anyone who has routinely watched the Rams throughout Donald’s first 3 seasons knows as much. Which is why it’s less than surprising when he pops up in pieces like this in the preseason. Even when he's holding out.
Houston’s J.J. Watt is preparing to return at full health after missing nearly all of the 2016 season with a back injury, but Donald has spent the last year taking up his mantle as the most terrifying pass rusher on the planet. The Rams defensive tackle might be the most explosive and powerful athlete in the league, but it’s not just his physical prowess that makes him dominant. He plays games with his opponents, mixing and matching his speed rushes with power moves—at times going straight ahead, at others gap-shooting, club-moving, or simply standing up to run around a pass blocker.
Donald has a Michael Jordan–esque “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” element to his game. Opposing offenses can come up with a customized plan to limit his effectiveness—deploying double-teams at the point of attack, using a healthy dose of bootlegs to get quarterbacks out of the pocket, and calling for a bevy or runs in the opposite direction—but not even that is usually enough. Donald blows up runs in every direction with his penetration, and quarterbacks aren’t safe from anywhere they try to throw. Watt may ultimately reclaim his title as the most unblockable player in the world, but until then Donald is the mastermind who wears the belt.
I’ll be diving into the contract situation later today, but this just underscores that the Rams need to find a way to get through this impasse with Donald. They’ve set a precedence that they’ll extend players before their contract is up (Tavon Austin, and Robert Quinn come to mind). Now is not the time to dig your heels in to make a point.