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Should the Los Angeles Rams break the bank for DL Aaron Donald? The analytics say yes.

NFL Network Analytics Expert Cynthia Frelund breaks down why the Rams need to make this happen.

Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald during the Week 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals, December 3, 2017.
Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald during the Week 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals, December 3, 2017.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Network Analytics Expert Cynthia Frelund dug into the numbers to make the case for why the Los Angeles Rams should pay DL Aaron Donald a record-breaking contract.

Her argument takes three stances:

1) There is a premium on interior pressure -- and Donald is a monster

My 10-year model shows that over the past three seasons, offensive trends -- like an increase in designed shorter passes (with intentional shorter times to throw) -- have been accompanied by an increase in unsuccessful plays caused by inside defensive pressures. By evaluating pass plays that have resulted in first downs and touchdowns, my model shows that disruption in the middle of the offensive line is increasingly associated with fewer offensive conversions and points scored.


Let me say this again in a different way, because it’s tricky. Think of a drive as a unit that reflects all of the parts that make up each down. There has been an increase in shorter passes attempted, and when defenses cause interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- especially on these short passes -- the whole drive gets stopped 27 percent more often than it did in the previous seven years. Stopping drives more often means less scoring, and so there is an increased emphasis on interior pass-rushing production.

For Donald specifically, over the past three seasons, he has the most overall pressures (by at least 20 per year) and the most disruptions resulting in non-conversions of any interior pass rusher in each year. It’s easy to look to his traditional stats -- he has averaged almost 10 sacks per campaign since being drafted in 2014, while pacing the league in tackles for loss and forced fumbles in that span -- or simply watch any game he’s played to see his impact, but part of what makes him worth setting market records for lies in the lengths opposing offenses have to go to when trying to stop him.

2) With Suh in town, Donald will once again become a run-stopping wall

In his first three seasons, Donald played in a different defensive scheme than he does now; however, he never ranked outside of the top five at his position in terms of run stops until last season. With the Dolphins, Suh played mostly in the same spot that Donald plays, but he projects to be used in different techniques with the Rams. This also means Los Angeles can use Michael Brockers more strategically. Thus, the projection for Donald is shifted to include a higher percentage of run stops, while the overall defensive potential to stop the run, especially up the middle, will be maximized.

In other words, with Suh on board, Donald will become that much more important to the Rams’ defense -- which means it’s crucial to lock him up now.

3) Donald will maximize the new pieces in the secondary -- and vice-versa

One insight from my model shows that when corners are within 1 yard of their receiver OR are within 2 yards of their receiver AND their hips are in a direction that aligns with the angle their receiver is traveling (and they are closing in on their man), there are associated increases in time that opposing quarterbacks take to throw and volume of attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage. There is also a related decrease in completion percentage and passer rating. Quarterbacks are pressured more often when a corner meets this criteria -- and everything gets amplified when two corners achieve this at the same time.

Revisiting the man-coverage snaps Talib played in Wade Phillips’ 2016 Denver defense, one can forecast that the Rams will realize more of the upside connected with Peters and minimize the downside. And with more precision being asked of opposing quarterbacks, Donald will have a greater chance to wreak havoc.

Take a minute and read the piece as it truly breaks down the impact Donald has on the Rams defense and vice-versa.

As it was last offseason, the major question surrounding Donald’s situation right now pertains to Donald’s holdout and his absence at organized team activities.

Only one major difference this offseason.

Donald won’t be able to hold out of training camp this time around. Losing an accrued season toward free agency didn’t matter last year. This year? He needs one more to get a fourth year in order to hit unrestricted free agent status. If Donald decided to hold out of camp, he wouldn’t reach the free agent market for another season - 2020.

While there is a section of the Ram fan base that looks at the price that Donald will command, a majority agrees that the Rams need to get a deal done. The question ultimately becomes how much should the Rams pay him? And for how long?

It’s probably a safe assumption that Donald will be the highest paid defender in the league if he inks his new contract. Deservedly so. So if the Rams want to be seen as a team that rewards on-field performance, they need to find a way to #PayTheMan.

Even the analytics show as much.