Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman and Pitt great Aaron Donald was named the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus on Monday. The analytics website pointed to his 80 total pressures and improved run defense among other factors in its decision to honor Donald.
”Aaron Donald was once again the best defender in football this season, even if we can acknowledge that the gap between him and the field was closer this year than in seasons past,” wrote Sam Monson of PFF. “Donald led all interior defenders in total pressures this season, with 80, which was 18 more than any other interior player. That’s phenomenal, but coming from a season in which he led all defenders by around the same margin, it looks somehow underwhelming.”
”A season ago, Donald was chasing the single-season sack record all year long, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of setting that as his baseline for expectations,” Monson continued. “For an interior pass-rusher to be anywhere near the single-season sack record is the outlier of all outliers. Donald’s season a year ago wasn’t just a Defensive Player of the Year kind of season; it was one of the greatest single seasons the league has seen from any player at any position.”
Donald’s overall grade from PFF for the 2019 season was 93.7, and that led all interior defenders in the NFL. The Rams star has led the league’s interior linemen in terms of overall grade for the last five years. This season, he did so on the strength of a campaign that included 12.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, 53 hurries, 20 tackles for losses and a safety in his homecoming to Heinz Field.
Donald's performance may go unappreciated by some due to the fact that the Rams experienced a down year and some of his stats dropped from the 2018 season, which also earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors from PFF. But despite a slight decline in dominance, Donald still outperformed every player at his position and looks capable of repeating the feat in 2020.