This should come as no surprise with Donald's body of work ranking as one of the most impressive starts to a career in recent memory, earning four Pro Bowl selections, three first-team All-Pro nods, and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. It could be argued that only Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt made a larger impact defensively through their first four years.
Donald was named the best pass-rusher and highest-graded interior defender by Pro Football Focus, an outlet that consistently rates him as the top player in the NFL. In a year where there aren't any obvious edge rushers, Donald should capture Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in his career, an award that seems long overdue.
On a 0-100 scale, Aaron Donald finished with an overall grade of 99.7. The highest grade obtainable is a 99.9. #LARams
— Mike Cahill (@FB_Cahill) January 10, 2018
Leading the Rams to the playoffs for the first time in his career, Donald recorded 41 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and a pass deflection in 14 games. Donald tied for 11th in sacks despite his role as an interior defender, topping Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Melvin Ingram, Cameron Wake, and Jadeveon Clowney. It would be slightly unfair to attribute the Rams' ascension this season solely to Donald's outstanding campaign, but his ability to create countless opportunities for other defenders while wrecking the flow of the game for his opponents deserves attention.
We can also break down Donald's competitors for the award and rule them out via process of elimination. Jacksonville's defense was one of the surprise stories of the year, but Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey are likely to split votes. On a defense that didn't have a single below-average defender in the starting lineup, were Campbell and Ramsey more valuable to their team than Donald? Is either player the best defender on their team? This is a conundrum that ought to split the electorate.
Chandler Jones led the league with 17 sacks, but the Arizona Cardinals devolved into a national afterthought. Will anyone remember Jones as the premier defensive player in the league? Probably not. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was also dominant, but his team faltered down the stretch, missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, which may rule him out of the race. Dallas Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan have outside cases for the award, but no player has been as impactful and consistent as Donald.
The Rams were one of the best stories of the year and while Sean McVay and Todd Gurley get the majority of the limelight, Donald should also reach the podium on Saturday night.
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