Former Pitt defensive lineman and current Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for 2020 during the NFL Honors ceremony on Saturday night. It was his third time winning the honor in his seven-year career, as he previously won it after the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Now 3x Defensive Player of the Year... @RamsNFL DL Aaron Donald! #NFLHonors pic.twitter.com/SxW8iIWwoc— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2021
In 2020, Donald had one of the best seasons of his career and put on a dominant showing despite facing double teams constantly. He finished the year with 45 tackles, including 13.5 sacks and 14 tackles for losses; 28 quarterback hits; four forced fumbles; one fumble recovery; and one pass breakup. None of those stats were personal bests, and none led the league in 2020. However, Donald led one of the best defenses in the league.
The Rams ranked first in total defense, allowing just 292.9 yards per game; second in scoring defense, allowing 19.3 points per game; fourth in rushing defense, allowing 99.1 yards per game; and first in passing defense, allowing 193.8 yards per game. The team also ranked second in sack percentage, taking down opposing passers on 8.67 percent of plays.
Donald’s primary competition for the honor in 2020 included Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end T.J. Watt, who led the league in sacks, with 15, and tackles for losses, with 23, and Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavier Howard, who led the league in interceptions, with 10, and pass breakups, with 20. Despite the fact that Donald was less productive than Watt and Howard on an individual basis, he still received 27 votes from a panel composed of 50 media members from across the nation. Watt came second, with 20 votes, and Howard received three.
The honor is just the latest in what has been an illustrious career for Donald. In addition to earning three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he has also earned first-team All-Pro honors on six occasions and Pro Bowl honors every year he has been in the league. The Pitt alum was also the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2014, the NFL sack leader in 2018 and a member of the NFL 2010 All-Decades Team.
Given his growing list of accolades, it seems more likely with each passing year that Donald will one day be able to count enshrinement in Canton among his many achievements.