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Rams 2022 depth chart: Aaron Donald will retire your soul

How the defensive tackle position stacks up for the L.A. Rams

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angele Rams v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams have the best football player to enter the NFL since 2014. They also have the best player named “Greg” to enter the NFL since 2014. No, not Greg Robinson.

What’s the situation looking like for the Rams at defensive tackle in 2022?

2022 L.A. Rams Defensive Tackles

Not here: Sebastian Joseph-Day

Aaron Donald - 6’1, 265 lbs, born 5/23/1991

8x Pro Bowl, 7x All-Pro, All-2010s team

Contract: 6-year, $135 million through 2024, $26.75 million cap hit in 2022

During Donald’s first two seasons in the league, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year was J.J. Watt both times. Watt posted 38 sacks, 101 QB hits, and 58 tackles for a loss over 32 games as a defensive end. Donald has never been quite as productive as Watt was during his early stretch in Houston, but he has played in a tougher division, from an interior pass rushing position, and been unparalleled in reliability and consistency.

In the past seven seasons, Donald has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, finished in the top-five of voting in all seven years, named first team All-Pro in all seven years, and ranks first in sacks, QB hits, and tackles for a loss.

Donald has five more sacks than second-place Chandler Jones, and 26 more tackles for a loss, 57 more QB hits than second-place Cam Jordan.

Donald is not strictly a defensive tackle and by some definitions is a defensive end, but it is his lack of positional definability that makes him so unique amongst his peers. He’s not a position. He’s Aaron Donald.

In the case of this article though, he’s a defensive tackle.

Greg Gaines - 6’1, 312 lbs, born 5/6/1996

Contract: Gaines, a fourth round pick in 2019, is signed through 2022

The loss of Sebastian Joseph-Day to a pectoral injury midseason opened the door for Gaines to start for the first time alongside Donald. The result was a breakout season by Gaines, both as a player and as a fan favorite.

Gaines proved he could handle a three-down workload, getting in on 90-percent or more of the snaps in 10 of the team’s final 13 games, including the playoffs and the Super Bowl. He posted 4.5 sacks in the regular season and had two batted passes and a tackle for a loss in the NFC Championship.

The only issue facing the Rams with Gaines is deciding what the franchise can afford to pay him. One of the few “ones who got away” under Sean McVay is John Franklin-Meyers, a defensive lineman who is now starring for the New York Jets. Could Gaines also star somewhere else, away from Donald?

Another season like last season and Gaines will price himself out of L.A.

Bobby Brown III - 6’4, 321 lbs, born 8/7/2000

Contract: A fourth round pick in 2021, signed through 2024

Brown was an exceptional athlete when testing last year, posting a top-25 Relative Athletic Score, all-time (back to 1987) among defensive tackles. He is also one of the youngest players in the NFL and developmental time was expected.

Brown played in just 22 snaps over 10 games last season. It took Gaines two and a half years to really get his shot and look where he’s at now. It may be enough to have Donald, Gaines, and not to expect many snaps being divvied out behind them this season. I’ll talk about A’Shawn Robinson in the defensive ends group.

Also: Marquise Copeland, Michael Hoecht

Is it a draft need? Possibly

As noted here, the Rams could use a backup to Donald. However, if they only come out with a seventh round pick or an undrafted free agent signing, that may be enough. The fact that Brown is developing on the roster is enough insurance to prepare for Gaines to possibly leave in 2023, but if the Rams draft another defensive tackle this year that wouldn’t be too surprising.