What is the joy of watching sports if not the entertainment value of being able to witness greatness in real time? It’s not enough to read a book about Alexander the Great or to watch a movie about Jim Thorpe. We want to see it and we want it now.
But for some reason whenever we do see it, what do you do then?”
Every time a great football player comes along—and by definition, the truly legendary ones are so unique, so rare that we are unlikely to get more than a few at a time—there’s always the question that follows of, “How can we make a dozen more of these?”
For example, the hot topic going into the draft this year was “Who is the next Deebo Samuel?” Sometime before him, it was Tyreek Hill. For the last 20 years of drafts, it’s been Tom Brady and day three quarterbacks. And you can go further back to names like Fran Tarkenton, Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, Refrigerator Perry, or Deion Sanders.
But the great thing about being The One is that there is Only One.
Aaron Donald is Him. There isn’t going to be another player like Him. He was the most dominant defensive player in college football at Pitt. He had what some called “the best Senior Bowl in 20 years” as a prospect in 2014. He ran a 4.68 at the 2014 scouting combine, a record for a defensive tackle that nobody has ever come close to and while many point to his lighter frame as an explanation—Donald also did 35 reps on the bench! As one football player put it, “285 lbs with a six-pack? Whew.”
Then asked to prove it in the NFL, Donald has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and willed the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl in two of the last four years, fittingly finishing off the Bengals to win it all six months ago.
There will not be another Aaron Donald. That hasn’t stopped countless writers from trying to find one.
This is to all the men who are not Aaron Donald. You could be great, but you are not Him.
To Ed Oliver,
You ran a 4.73 at the 2019 combine, which was actually considered a disappointment and you said, “I’m not gonna stress myself out about no 40-yard dash. I’m not a running back.” Still, the world and ESPN was trying hard to compare you to Aaron Donald, try as you did to fight those comps for obvious reasons.
“Y’all need to stop comparing us,” he says. “If you compared Aaron Donald to me, he wouldn’t like it. I don’t want to live in his shadow. We’re going to be competing for who’s better. ... I’m trying to be the best to ever do it.”
Oliver, a nice player, has now amassed 12 sacks and 21 TFL in three full seasons. Donald had nine sacks and 18 TFL as a rookie.
Just to put Ed Oliver’s 4.19 short-shuttle time into perspective, here’s some other notable results:— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) March 28, 2019
4.18 – Antonio Brown
4.19 – DeSean Jackson
4.24 – Saquon Barkley
4.24 – Le’Veon Bell
4.25 – Julio Jones
4.39 – Aaron Donald
To Jonathan Allen,
You’re a very nice player! And in your fifth season, you just made your first Pro Bowl! That’s neat! You had a career-high nine sacks to get there. I remember when Donald had nine sacks. He called it “My rookie season.”
After Washington picked you 17th overall in 2017, you said Donald was one of your favorite players to watch.
“I’m a very versatile player and can do anything. I love watching Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald,” Washington’s first-round draft pick told reporters on a conference call.
I imagine he’s still one of your favorite players to watch!
To DeForest Buckner,
At 6’7, nobody would confuse you for Donald and though your 291 lbs frame is similarly slim, there’s never been a “he’s the next AD” statement about you. However, there is the comparison of being an impact pass rusher from the inside or 3-4 defensive end position and there’s no question you’re one of the best at it.
That’s why it’s so important to note that your typical, average “All-Pro season” is nine sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.
Top interior DL ratings in Madden NFL 23:— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) July 21, 2022
Aaron Donald: 99 (6th straight yr)
Cam Heyward: 93
Vita Vea: 93
Jonathan Allen: 92
Chris Jones: 91
DeForest Buckner: 90
Kenny Clark: 89
Jeffery Simmons: 88
Fletcher Cox: 88
Michael Pierce: 88
Daron Payne: 87
Quinnen Williams: 86
As my mom used to tell me when I told her that I’ve finished cleaning my room and then she would come to inspect my efforts: “That’s a good start.”
You had seven sacks last season. That’s a good start.
To Quinnen Williams,
Agree or disagree with his takes, nobody is doing “YouTube football analyst” better than Brett Kollman right now. I respect his hustle and work ethic and effort to reach his current status in the sports influencer space. Speaking of disagreeing with Brett’s takes though...
And hey Quinnen, Brett might not even be wrong. Maybe in 2019 you were the best PROSPECT at defensive tackle since Aaron Donald. You were drafted like it, going third overall. Brett even does a little bit of work for me, mentioning that Grady Jarrett, Jonathan Bullard, and Taven Bryan were all players drawing AD comps going into the draft and that he decided to stop short of doing the comparison for any of them.
He waited for you first, you arrived, you got the comp.
This week’s episode of “The Film Room” explores everything that makes Williams so comparable to Donald, as well as the reasons why he could be a potential first overall pick candidate for the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Through three seasons in the NFL, you’ve been so nice. I’m sure many of teams would like to have you! And after a slow rookie season, you have posted 13 sacks, 26 QB hits, and 17 TFL over your past two seasons combined.
I once asked Aaron Donald (in a dream), “What would you do if you had 13 sacks, 26 QB hits, and 17 TFL in a single season?” and he said, “I’d cry a single tear out of sadness for the mistakes I’ve made along the way and I’d work twice as hard the next season.”
Brett does great work. He should not have been trying to find the next Aaron Donald.
To Fletcher Cox,
Okay so you did come two years before Aaron Donald, so if anything people were saying that AD could be the next you. But let’s do a head-to-head comparison of your first eight seasons (which included five Pro Bowls, three second-team and one first-team All-Pro nod) and Donald’s first eight seasons:
Cox: 125 games, 48 sacks, 121 QB hits, 62 TFL, 11 FF, 13 PD
Donald: 127 games, 98 sacks, 226 QB hits, 150 TFL, 23 FF, 16 PD
As Katalina once told me on a hit MTV reality dating show: “Next.”
To Leonard Williams,
I have to give credit to Bleacher Report today. All they do is give me great content to make fun of and nobody is better at that.
They’ll try anything to make you and players like you seem anywhere near as valuable as Donald.
QB Hits among interior DL since 2015:— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) August 24, 2020
Aaron Donald - 93
Leonard Williams - 82
Fletcher Cox - 64 pic.twitter.com/AdymbPPwks
But I’m certain that Donald never had seasons with 0.5 sacks, 2 sacks, and 3 sacks. You had 17.5 sacks in your first five seasons combined. Donald had 20.5 sacks in his fifth season alone.
To Sheldon Richardson,
Your head coach Rex Ryan once said that Aaron Donald couldn’t “hold your jock.” He later called it the dumbest thing he’s ever said.
Now that he's in the news, callback to the time that Rex Ryan said that Aaron Donald "can't hold (Sheldon Richardon's) jock" because Donald went to the Pro Bowl over Richardson.— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) August 25, 2022
Rex later called it the dumbest thing he's ever said. Which is saying a lot. pic.twitter.com/bWcBmFm0bb
I looked at the pile of dumb things said by Rex Ryan and it turns out they’re using it to finally start building that space elevator. “We can just climb up the pile of stupid things said by Rex Ryan,” according to Elon Musk.
To Milton Williams,
I remember you from last year! I even wrote about you for Turf Show Times.
Donald had nine sacks and was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first campaign. You had two sacks and that’s definitely something to be proud of!
To Malik McDowell,
At the 2017 combine you were fast. But not that fast.
Since 1999, only 17 DTs weighed at least 285 and ran faster than Malik McDowell (295 lbs, 4.85) Fastest by far is Aaron Donald, at 4.68— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) July 23, 2017
You still managed to find a way to halt your momentum entirely...and immediately.
To Sheldon Rankins,
Matt Bowen was quoted as saying what he said he wasn’t saying, saying, “I don’t want to say he had the same week as Aaron Donald, but...” Sorry Matt... You did want to say that he had the same week as Aaron Donald, that’s why you said it. It doesn’t matter what comes after but.
Rankins himself said, “I feel like I’m that kind of guy, that caliber of player.”
Funny, only a month earlier Bleacher Report basically posted the exact same article but for the Senior Bowl instead.
To Perrion Winfrey,
Cleveland.com posted a video that asks if you are “the next Aaron Donald”:
By all means, good luck. You won Senior Bowl MVP this year. That’s nice! When Donald went to the Senior Bowl in 2014, Lions defensive line coach Jim Washburn came away saying
“I’ve been there 20 times and there’s never been a performance like (Donald’s), ever.”
To Chris Jones,
I write to you out of respect, actually. If AD didn’t exist, you might actually be Him. Instead, I use you as a comparison and a nod as to why you’re consistently second-team All-Pro instead of first-team All-Pro.
There can only be one Him.
Sometimes you have 6.5-9 sacks. Once you had more than 10 sacks. Once.
Over the last seven seasons, once Aaron Donald had single-digit sacks. Once.
He is Him. You are second-team and that’s REALLY GOOD!
To Jeffery Simmons,
The Nashville Post posted an article last July titled “Is Jeffery Simmons the next Aaron Donald? NFL execs believe so”
What an interesting title. It makes me ask myself, “Are we allowed to sue the Nashville Post?”
The headline posits that NFL executives believe that Simmons is the next Aaron Donald. So....this is true? Every NFL exec believes that Simmons is the next Donald? How many execs are there anyway? 500? Wow, 500 out of 500 believe that Simmons is the next Donald?
Let’s see what the article says...
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler recently polled over 50 NFL executives, players, coaches and scouts in an effort to rank the top defensive tackles heading into the 2021 season.
“No one is Aaron Donald but [Simmons] might be the closest,” an NFL general manager told Fowler.
I’m calling my lawyer.
Donald posted 20 sacks in his first two NFL seasons and the world knew immediately that one of the top-five defensive players in football was he, him, Him, AD. You just had a nice season, 8.5 sacks in your third campaign, giving you 13.5 in your career. It’s nice. Really. It is nice.
To Javon Hargrave,
Don’t blame me for putting you here, blame the clout chasers at PFF. They’re putting your name in that atmosphere on purpose.
Most third down QB hits among Interior DL last season— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) March 30, 2022
1️⃣ Aaron Donald: 9
2️⃣ Ed Oliver: 8
3️⃣ Javon Hargrave: 7 pic.twitter.com/mqkI8SFRxB
“Him and Aaron Donald are currently on a different planet,” wrote B/R’s Thomas Petersen.
Javon Hargrave vs Panthers:— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) October 10, 2021
- 3 tackles
- 1 tackle for loss
- 1 sack
- 2 QB hits
Him and Aaron Donald are currently on a different planet.#Eaglespic.twitter.com/C237LxQ0M5
Think Petersen needs to check again and see if you are on your own planet or actually on the same planet as AD. I think maybe AD is hitching it ‘Castaway style’ like Tommy Hanks. Congrats on making your first Pro Bowl after posting a career-high 7.5 sacks in year six, but I don’t think you’re even AD’s “Wilson” yet.
To Grady Jarrett,
Did you know this guy Matt said you were doing your “best Aaron Donald impersonation” on this play where you get double-teamed on a handoff to Alvin Kamara?
Grady Jarrett doing his best Aaron Donald impersonation pic.twitter.com/1Yy9Jj8Mdo— Matt Karoly (@mattkaroly) November 9, 2021
Funny that doesn’t look like “sacking Joe Burrow to win the Super Bowl” to me.
To Jaylen Twyman,
What the hell are you doing here? I blame Dean Jones of Cat Crave.
Twyman has made no secret of his desire to follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles Rams lineman Aaron Donald, who he described as “my Michael Jordan” on NFL Network and someone he’s modeled his game on over the years.
Donald even gave up some of his time to work with Twyman recently, which was undoubtedly another incredible boost to his development and something that will stand him in good stead once the player gets to the next level.
Actually, that’s pretty nice. I like you, Jaylen and you are also a product of Pitt. But you ran a 5.40 at the combine (.72 seconds slower than AD), were a sixth round pick, and haven’t played in the NFL yet. My apologies to Dean Jones too.
To Calijah Kancey,
You haven’t even been drafted yet!
While he might not have the same pedigree as Aaron Donald, he could end up being compared to him quite often during the process.
Not only does he come from Donald’s former school, but he’s going to have the same question to answer coming into the league — can he perform despite being undersized? Donald was listed at 6-foot-1 and 285-pounds coming into the league, and Kancey is currently listed at 6-foot-0 and 275-pounds.
Like Donald, Kancey is known for his ability to rush the passer from the interior. So far in his first two seasons, he has 20 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
In Donald’s final season at Pitt, he had 28.5 TFL (that’s one season), 11 sacks, and four forced fumbles. If Kancey does that and then runs a 4.68, we’ll have something to talk about.
To Kam Carter,
To Mustafa Johnson,
You were an undersized defensive tackle at Colorado who wanted to get good enough to make the NFL and you tried to model your game and athletic traits to match Donald’s. Your comments on AD are among the sweetest I’ve ever read and it makes me wish that dream had come true.
“A lot of people watch Aaron Donald, but I have a real reason for it,” Johnson said. “Height and weight [wise], we’re about the same. He uses his hands to rush. That’s how I play — I try to keep guys’ hands off of me.
“Obviously, he’s way more explosive and faster and all that. But I’d like to think that could come with years of training. I hope at some point I can get to that level. But yeah, his 285 [pounds] look completely different than my 285. A six-pack at 285? Whew.”
Your head coach Mel Tucker took a similar approach when asked for a comparison.
“I was going to say Aaron Donald,” Tucker said with a laugh when asked who Johnson reminds him of, “but I can’t say Aaron Donald.”
Yeah. Nobody can say Aaron Donald, Mel. Don’t they know that by now?