The Rams’ Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL. But is he the best player in the NFL?
It’s a valid question, and one we asked on this week’s “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com. For an answer, we turned to someone who should know — former 49ers’ defensive lineman Bryant Young, a Hall-of-Fame finalist for the Class of 2020.
“He’s explosive,” Young said of Donald. “His first step is really quick, he’s strong, plays with good leverage, good hands, control and balance. This guy … he’s just doing a phenomenal job.”
“He definitely deserves the recognition because he’s one of the best players to play the game and certainly doing a fantastic job. I don’t know who’s not doing their due diligence, but certainly you want to make sure that this guy gets the recognition he deserves.”
Donald has. He was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year two of the past three years, Defensive Rookie of the Year (2014), a member of the 2010’s all-decade team and a first-team All-Pro the past five seasons.
But he’s never been on the MVP radar, though at one point two years ago there was a push to include him in the race. As almost always happens with defensive players, however, Donald’s candidacy fizzled, and a quarterback – Patrick Mahomes – was named the 2018 league MVP.
No surprise there. Quarterbacks comprise the overwhelming majority of MVP winners, with 17 of the past 20 — including the last seven. Defensive players are barely recognized, with Minnesota’s Alan Page (1971) the only recipient in the 63 years of the Associated Press award.
But while Donald doesn’t get MVP recognition he has the respect of opponents, most of whom double-and-sometimes-triple-team him. Yet Young insisted that opponents don’t do enough and, as a result, suffer the consequences. The proof: Five weeks into this season, Aaron Donald is on a pace that would put him at an NFL-record 24 sacks for a 16-game season.
And that’s for a defensive tackle, mind you; not an edge pass rusher.
“Well,” Young said, “here’s the thing: I’m amazed they don’t double-team him enough. That’s what I see. When I watch him play, I’m like: I know they’re going to slide the protection to him. I know they’re going to have a back and an offensive lineman on him. But it amazes me they don’t ID him as much as they should, as good of a player (as) he is.
“So they leave him single-upped, and he’s going to win a lot of those matchups. That’s what he’s doing. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities and doing a great job of it.”