Pitt alum Aaron Donald put on another stellar performance with the Los Angeles Rams in the 2020 season, and as a result, he earned first-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press for the sixth straight year on Friday. And for just the second time in his career, Donald was a unanimous first-team All-Pro selection.
The last time Donald earned a unanimous selection was on Jan. 4, 2019, after he posted the best season of his career, with a league-high 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for losses along with 59 tackles and a career-high 41 quarterback hits. In 2020, Donald’s stat line was less astronomical, as he came up with 13.5 tackles, 14 tackles for losses, 45 total tackles and 27 QB hits over 16 games.
However, Donald’s mastery of his role as an interior defensive lineman and his value to the Rams was undeniable, as he drew multiple blockers play after play, creating opportunities for others, and still managed to post some of the best totals of his NFL career in the process. As a result, he led the league in approximate value, a stat featured on Pro Football Reference similar to WAR in baseball, with a 22 mark.
In addition, Donald was the highest-graded defensive interior lineman on Pro Football Focus in the regular season for the seventh straight year, meaning he has been the best at his position by PFF’s estimation in every NFL season he has ever played. This season, his grade was a 94.5, which is the second-highest mark of his career. The only time he fared better was in 2018, when he was given a 94.8. That year, he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season.
Last season, Donald was dethroned from his perch as the Defensive Player of the Year, as the honor went to New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. But this year, there has been buzz that he could reclaim the title. His chief competitor appears to be Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for losses, with 15 and 23. However, Watt trails Donald in approximate value, with a mark of 18, and has a lower PFF grade at 91.6.
Those grades indicate Donald is viewed as a more important contributor who takes advantage of more opportunities than Watt by statisticians. In addition, it seems All-Pro voters concur this time around, as Donald was the only unanimous selection among NFL defenders in 2020. That bodes well for his Player of the Year hopes with just a few weeks left until the 2020 winner is revealed.