In the grand scheme of things, 2017 was an extremely successful year for the Los Angeles Rams. Their two cornerstone pieces (one on offense, one on defense) were lauded as two of the best players all year. This point remained true when RB Todd Gurley won the Offensive Player of the Year award, and was nominated for the Most Valuable Player award at the NFL Honors. DE Aaron Donald deservedly took home the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The NFL weren’t the only people who took notice. Pro Football Focus continues their countdown of their top 101 players on the season, and both Gurley and Donald make their appearances. Coming in at 52 was their teammate Lamarcus Joyner, so let’s see where these two land on the list:
22. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Top 101 appearances: New entry
There may have been no greater beneficiary of the coaching regime change with the Rams than Todd Gurley, who came back from looking lost a season ago to being a viable MVP candidate. Gurley led the league in overall PFF grade among running backs at 91.9, one of just two backs to creep over the 90.0 barrier. He only missed out on the rushing title because of being rested in Week 17 when the Rams had little to play for. He gained 2.15 yards per route run over the season, parlaying 76 targets into 788 receiving yards.
PFF Elite Stat: Gurley ranked fifth among running backs with 2.15 yards per route run this season, more than doubling his mark in this metric from 2016.
Well said. As displayed during his rookie season in 2015, Gurley again showed the ability to run like a truly elite running back. He was decisive, quick, ran with power, and hit his second gear insanely quickly. The difference under new Head Coach Sean McVay? The receiving department. A whole new side of Todd Gurley was unleashed this year, allowing him to be used to his full potential as an offensive weapon. Gurley totaled a career high 1,305 rushing yards, as well as 64 receptions for 788 receiving yards. Not only that, but he totaled 19 touchdowns on the season, and this was all completed in 15 games, many of which weren’t even full four quarter games with the Rams blowing some teams out.
So, where does Donald rank? Take a look:
1. Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams
Top 101 appearances: 4
The best player in football this season when you include the postseason was Aaron Donald, whose unrivaled pass-rushing skills also earned him PFF’s best pass-rusher award. Donald generated 91 total pressures, which led the entire league, and he did that while rushing from an interior alignment (where pressure is harder to generate) and missing two games over the season. Needless to say, Donald had the league’s best pass-rushing productivity score of 14.8, and in the playoffs he had one of the most spectacular halves of football you will ever see, generating 10 total pressures before the Falcons completely changed their gameplan at the half to try and take his influence out of the game. Donald’s dominance changes games, and he rightfully takes his place atop the PFF Top 101 for the second time in his career.
PFF Elite Stat: Donald led all interior defenders with 91 pressures in the regular season. That figure was so dominant that Geno Atkins, who ranked second with 70 pressures, was closer to eighth-highest Fletcher Cox (50) than he was to Donald.
For the third season in a row, Donald has once again found himself among the top three players on the PFF Top 101. His utter dominance continues to be jaw-dropping. With a few questions finally surrounding Donald with the contractual holdout, as well as the switch to a 3-4 defense, he proved nothing could stop him. Missing all of training camp as well as preseason, Donald showed up week one in Los Angeles as a man possessed. The Rams ultimately held him out of week one, though the next 14 weeks were all hands on deck. Donald tied his career high 11 sacks, though he set a new career high with five forced fumbles. Donald also had 4-5 sacks called back due to penalty as well as a strange incident vs the Tennessee Titans where QB Marcus Mariota recovered his own strip-sack and gained positive yards, making the sack null.
The Rams obviously had themselves a dream season, when compared to how they’ve performed in years prior. These two players were major pieces to the Rams success last season, and will continue to be moving forward. The Rams look forward to continuing their dominance in the NFC West. The positive? Both Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley are just entering the primes of their careers.