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NFL defensive line rankings: How much is Aaron Donald worth to a defense?

Rams are being held up on defense by their strongest player and nobody else

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams Practice & Media Day Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With ESPN’s Mike Clay projecting the Los Angeles Rams to have the worst units in the NFL at cornerback, safety, linebacker, and edge rusher, you would almost have to guess that he reads Turf Show Times. And I’ll I’m doing is presenting the actual rosters in the league with very little commentary and then asking for your votes.

Your votes in our previous articles on cornerbackssafetieslinebackersedge players — have resoundingly placed those units in the bottom-three of the conference, if not last. I don’t see what’s wrong with that or with the Rams arguably accepting their fate, swallowing their medicine, and attempting to be back atop the throne in two or three years.

What other choice do they have?

What would be wrong? To eat a dirt pie with a smile on your face and tell everyone, “Yum! Banana cream!” That would be weird and if Les Snead, Sean McVay, and Kevin Demoff did that this offseason, it would only setback the Rams further than they already are: A team that has one first round pick on the entire defense, no first round pick in the draft this year, no second round picks on the entire defense, and Ernest Jones as the only third round pick on the entire defense.

It’s interesting that when a team trades away a first round pick, “They gave up too much!” When a team has a chance to acquire a player who was drafted in the first round, “Go get that guy!” But when a team has a depth chart loaded with day three picks and undrafted free agents...”They’ll be fine.”

Do first round picks have value or don’t they?

Aaron Donald is surrounded by the worst supporting cast he’s ever had in the NFL. We’ve been asking for months how his place, how Matthew Stafford’s place, how Cooper Kupp’s place on this roster as currently constructed makes any sense. Now others are starting to catch up and ask the same questions. Will Rams be first team to take advantage of a post-draft trade market?

Or will McVay ask a 32-year-old future Hall of Famer to carry an entire defense on his back for what could be his final season? I don’t see the logic there.

We’ve ranked the other units, now let’s get to the only one that has a single proven player on the Rams. But for how long?

Some guides:

New Player in 2023


*2021 or 2022 Pro Bowl

I will list the first round pick(s) that team has this year


Commanders - Daron Payne*, Jonathan Allen*, PHIDARIAN MATHIS (First round pick: 16)

Giants - Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Rakeem Nunez-Roches (First round pick: 25)

49ers - Javon Hargrave*, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens (First round pick: None)

Eagles - Fletcher Cox, JORDAN DAVIS, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu (First round picks: 10, 30)

Packers - Kenny Clark*, DEVONTE WYATT, T.J. Slaton (First round pick: 15)

Bucs - Vita Vea*, Greg Gaines, Deadrin Senat (First round pick: 19)

Panthers - Derrick Brown, Shy Tuttle, Bravvion Roy (First round pick: 1)

Seahawks Dre’Mont Jones, Jarran Reed, Bryan Mone (First round picks: 5, 20)

Falcons - Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata, Eddie Goldman (First round pick: 8)

Cowboys - Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, Johnathan Hankins (First round pick: 26)

Lions - Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs (First round picks: 6, 18)

Cardinals - Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, Carlos Watkins (First round pick: 3)

Saints - Khalen Saunders, Nathan Shepherd (First round pick: 29)

Bears - Justin Jones, Andrew Billings, Andrew Brown (First round pick: 9)

Vikings - Dean Lowry, Harrison Phillips, Khyiris Tonga, Jonathan Bullard (First round pick: 23)

Now without ranking them, let’s look at the Rams defensive line:

Rams - Aaron Donald*, Bobby Brown III, Jonah Williams, Marquise Copeland, Earnest Brown IV


  • If you break down L.A.’s defense by where they were drafted, Donald is the only player drafted in the first round, nobody was drafted in the second round, and Ernest Jones is the only player drafted in the third round. Then 10 players were day three picks and 11 others were undrafted free agents. If the Rams traded Donald, they wouldn’t be left with any defensive players picked in the first two rounds, until the next one that they pick.
  • The Rams have the best player of his generation on their defensive line. If you take the top player off of each defensive line though, where would the Rams rank then? There are at least 10 teams that have a good-to-great number two on the defensive line. I could also be low on a few other players on this list who I am not as familiar with.
  • L.A. parted with Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson, who remains unsigned. In recent years, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Michael Brockers, Morgan Fox, John Franklin-Myers have also left/been released or traded.


Where does Rams DL rank with Aaron Donald?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    (24 votes)
  • 16%
    (30 votes)
  • 27%
    (49 votes)
  • 17%
    (31 votes)
  • 25%
    (47 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now

Now let’s say that the Rams traded Aaron Donald for draft picks.


Where would Rams DL rank without Aaron Donald?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    (10 votes)
  • 12%
    (19 votes)
  • 80%
    (123 votes)
152 votes total Vote Now