Former Pitt star Aaron Donald menaced opposing offenses in the 2018 season as the star defensive lineman of the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, and on Saturday, he was recognized for his efforts and named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press for the second season in a row.
Donald’s performance in 2018 was truly remarkable, as he posted career highs in several categories, with 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for losses, 41 quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries. On top of that, his sack and tackle-for-loss totals led the NFL, further solidifying his status as the league’s premier defender.
In terms of larger historical achievements, Donald was just two sacks away from tying the all-time single-season sack record of 22.5 set by former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan in 2001. However, Donald did set the single-season sack record for defensive tackles and joined former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor as the only NFL defender to record 20-plus sacks and make a Super Bowl appearance in the same season.
He also produced a number of memorable moments, such as his career-best four-sack game against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 21. That showing helped his Rams en route to a 39-10 win and included one of the most impressive plays of the season and Donald’s career, as he stripped the ball away from 49ers running back Matt Breida and recovered the fumble he forced in a single motion.
Such dominant displays have garnered Donald praise from all corners of the NFL, including from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who described as “pretty much unblockable," accoring to Mike Reiss of ESPN.
With this individual accolade secured, Donald will look to add to his achievements on Sunday evening, when he’ll attempt to prove Belichick right and get after Tom Brady as the Rams face the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.