Defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald

Los Angeles Rams defeat the New England Patriots 24-3 during a NFL football game.
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Aaron Donald has been a force since he entered the league in 2014. He’s routinely called one of the best players in football, and that call has only gotten more consistent since he signed a six-year, $135 million deal with the Rams just before the start of the 2018 season.

Donald’s performance in 2019 may have been overshadowed a bit after he set a record for interior linemen with 20.5 sacks the year before. He still had 12.5 sacks and led the league with 20 tackles for loss. But after what he did the previous season — combined with the Rams missing the playoffs — it didn’t quite rate the same.

But as the Rams’ defense improved to No. 1 in total defense and points allowed in 2020, Donald was a big reason why. In his seventh season, he was second in the league with 13.5 sacks, totaling 14 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hits, and four forced fumbles. He also continuously drew double teams — and sometimes triple teams — allowing his teammates to thrive.

After signing with Los Angeles on a one-year deal, linebacker Leonard Floyd registered a career high 10.5 sacks in 2020, a year after recording 3.0 with the Bears. Fifth-year defensive lineman Morgan Fox went from 2.0 sacks in 2019 to 6.0 this season.

For those reasons, Donald is PFT’s choice for 2020 defensive player of the year.

There were a few other strong contenders for the prize. As Mike Tomlin has said, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt plays like he’s “visiting from another planet.” The linebacker led the league with 15.0 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, and 41 quarterback hits. Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard seemed to vaporize every pass thrown his way, leading the league with 10 interceptions and 20 passes defensed.

But Donald’s ability to affect nearly every play as an interior lineman sets him apart from his peers. And for the third time in four years, he’s our top defensive player.

37 responses to “Defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald

  1. TJ Watt should have won this award. Better numbers, and he was more valuable to his team than was Donald.

  2. All 3 are deserving, but X-MAN shoulda picked this one off! First double digit interception numbers in like a decade or something like that…

    Congrats to Donald

  3. Very deserving seen every game of his career so far. Never seen him
    Take a play off if he’s on the field he’s looking to make it a nightmare for the offense . Thank God he is a Ram .

  4. Interesting comment by Tomlin… especially after what he said to Chase Young on the sideline during the Washington game.

  5. I’m sorry but someone that has had 10 takeaways himself deserves that spot. I get it Aaron Donald is the big name player but 10 change of possessions is pretty huge.

  6. He’s well deserving no doubt , but based on this year and what he’s leading and led league in , TJ Watt is the defensive player of the year.

  7. Watt surpassed Donald in EVERY SINGLE STATISTICAL CATEGORY and did it without playing the last weak of the season.

  8. Odd choice not supported by the rationale provided. Watt beat Donald in every category mentioned. The Steelers have lead the league in sacks for what, 4 years in row — and have regularly been one of the top defensive units overall during that time. That’s largely because of Watt. You’re faulting Watt because you’re splitting hairs between the team rankings (if the Rams finish 1st, the Steelers finish 3rd overall) in most major defensive categories.

  9. steelbydesign says:
    January 7, 2021 at 9:44 am
    Watt surpassed Donald in EVERY SINGLE STATISTICAL CATEGORY and did it without playing the last weak of the season.

    ~~~~

    I think the point they are making here is that on a play where Donald wasn’t generating a stat he was being double and triple teamed letting his teammates feast. That’s what they mean by affecting “nearly every play”. I like that PFT thought about this more than just picking the stat leader.

  10. The Mike Trout of the NFL: often considered the best but will never ever win a championship.

  11. Nick Name says:
    January 7, 2021 at 10:12 am

    I think the point they are making here is that on a play where Donald wasn’t generating a stat he was being double and triple teamed letting his teammates feast. That’s what they mean by affecting “nearly every play”. I like that PFT thought about this more than just picking the stat leader.

    ********************************************************************************

    Same argument applies to Watt, though. Is it any coincidence Bud Dupree exploded in sacks the past couple years once Watt came to prominence? Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt — even some of the role guys at ILB or backups for Dupree. All have increased production in terms of getting to the QB and stopping the run.

  12. You guys realize this is just PFTs pick for DPOY, not the actual award they give before the Super Bowl.

    Watt is probably going to win the real thing, so Steeler fans can unclench.

  13. Gilmore got it last year and didn’t have the numbers that Xavien Howard put up. My vote would easily have been for Howard but I don’t have a problem with Donald winning it and wouldn’t have had a problem if Watt had one it. All three of these guys were highly deserving.

  14. Its rare that a guy lives up to a massive contract and doesn’t just take it easy after getting paid. Donald has earned every penny. He is the anti Haynesworth

  15. This was an easy pick. Donald should MVP for what he does on the field. People wanting to give this to a DB have no idea what wins football games. Donald destroys the plans of the opposing offense. His D is the best in the league because of him. Sorry but no DB can have the impact on a game that Donald does. An INT is nice but taking away the line of scrimmage from the offense destroys their whole game plan.

  16. steelbydesign says:
    January 7, 2021 at 9:44 am
    Watt surpassed Donald in EVERY SINGLE STATISTICAL CATEGORY and did it without playing the last weak of the season

    I’m a Rams fan but I agree Watt is just as deserving. With that being said you can’t use statistics as a measuring stick in this comparison. You’re comparing an edge rushing LB to an interior lineman who is constantly doubled sometimes triple teamed. The fact that he was 2nd in the league’ in sacks is nothing short of remarkable.

  17. TJ Watt will win the real DPOY award, he tops Donald in every major category and is the more disruptive player.

  18. This has turned into a popularity contest just like the Pro Bowl….Xavien Howard accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 13 years…give X the Award.

  19. TJ Watt drops into coverage a lot, and still puts up league-leading numbers. He also gets double teamed a lot.

  20. Bills played the Rams & the Steelers this year. Donald was a force to be dealt with mostly in the 2nd half. Watt was a one man wrecking crew the entire game….

  21. TJ’s numbers are better. No-one even close in TFLs (23!). Stats are not everything but they are not irrelevant, either. Intangibles are not measurable so will always be subjective. He should be DPOY when the real award is given, but I expect the same spurious logic and going with the easy choice will impact that decision, too.

  22. TJ WATT led the league in Sacks, Tackles for loss, and QB hits. In the past decade the only other players to achieve that feat were Aaron Donald, and some other guy named Watt. Each time they did it they were named DPOY. Give it to Watt, he earned it!

  23. tinindian says:
    January 7, 2021 at 10:44 am

    Gilmore got it last year and didn’t have the numbers that Xavien Howard put up. My vote would easily have been for Howard but I don’t have a problem with Donald winning it and wouldn’t have had a problem if Watt had one it. All three of these guys were highly deserving.
    +++++
    Since this is the PFT DPOY, Shaquil Barrett actually got it last year.

  24. For everyone saying watt, I’d say this it’s easier when you are on the outside or coming up the middle on a blitz, now those who said Howard know that CB’s are usually underappreciated for their work…..those who said young…….you lost to my team the giants twice that’s gonna hurt your chances🤷‍♂️

  25. Would have been amazing if he had played in Super Bowl LII. Might have had a different outcome.

  26. savagestarlight says:
    January 7, 2021 at 10:36 am

    You guys realize this is just PFTs pick for DPOY, not the actual award they give before the Super Bowl.

    Watt is probably going to win the real thing, so Steeler fans can unclench.

    ****************************************************************************

    Realized it. People like to debate when they disagree with something, though. To me, that’s almost the sole reason for the existence of a comments section on a sport site.

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