In June, ESPN crowned one standout from each NFL team as the Player of the Decade for their franchise, and for the Los Angeles Rams, that player was perennial All-Pro defensive lineman and Pitt great Aaron Donald.
Donald was selected by ESPN reporter Lindsey Thiry, and former Rams running back Todd Gurley earned honorable mention for his contributions to the team in the 2010s. In the ESPN article announcing the selection, Thiry outlined her reasons for choosing Donald.
"In six seasons, Donald has 72.5 sacks, and in 2018 he set the NFL record for sacks by an interior lineman with 20.5, helping power the Rams to Super Bowl LIII," Thiry wrote. “A six-time Pro Bowl selection and a five-time All-Pro, Donald’s production has earned recognition from players across the league who have not only vouched for his future in the Hall of Fame, but have proclaimed him as arguably the best defensive player in NFL history."
Donald has been a game-changing talent for the Rams since the team drafted him in 2014, as he has not only been recognized as one of the best players in the game on an annual basis, but also as the best player at his position, on defense and in the NFL on multiple occasions by outlets like Pro Football Focus.
Most notably, Donald won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press in 2017 and 2018. In the first season of his reign as Player of the Year, Donald matched what was then a career high with 11 sacks and forced a career-high five fumbles. Then, in 2018, he threatened Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record by coming up with a league-high 20.5 and adding 25 tackles for losses, another league-high figure.
The 6’1”, 280-pound lineman was denied Player of the Year honors by the Associated Press in 2019, but Pro Football Focus honored him with the title after he came up with 12.5 sacks and once again led the league with 20 tackles for losses despite the fact that opposing offenses constantly had him double-teamed.
Another factor contributing to Donald’s Player of the Decade selection was his inclusion on multiple All-2010s teams. Notably, he was one of two Rams placed on the official All-2010s team released by the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in April. Rams punter Johnny Hekker was also honored with a spot on the honorary team, but Donald was one of eight unanimous selections on the 52-man squad.
While uncertainty lingers over the upcoming NFL season due to the ongoing pandemic, it seems certain that when football games do resume, Donald will continue to set himself apart from not only the rest of the Rams roster, but most of his competitors in the NFL as one of the very best players of his generation.