Through his first two seasons, Aaron Donald has established himself as one of the premier defensive players in the league.
Donald has earned the reputation as being a player that can single-handedly change the game. Following a slow start to the 2016 season, the 25-year-old has begun to pick up his level of production currently sitting with 5.0 sacks, which is the highest total among defensive tackles in the NFL.
He is also coming off one of his best performances of the season in the Rams' 13-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers registering two sacks with three total tackles for loss, and two hits on the quarterback. This marked the fifth multi-sack game of his career and was the second time he achieved that feat this season.
In light of that, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher earlier this week declared that at this moment Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL.
“I’d vote for him. There are a lot of good defensive players in the league right now," Fisher said. "Obviously, I’m a lot closer to him than anybody else is, but when you watch the things that he does, it’s really remarkable. We’ll see what happens, he needs to finish strong the second half of the year.”
Although the traditional statistical wouldn't necessarily indicate that, there are other more depth numbers that back that premise. According to Pro Football Focus, Donald leads the NFL with 49 total quarterback pressures despite the constant double and triple teams that are thrown his way on a weekly basis. Pro Football Focus has also rated him the second-highest rated player in the league (95.6) behind just New England Patriots' Tom Brady (96.4).
In fact, Donald is currently rated head and shoulder above the rest of the league at his position with Arizona Cardinals' Calais Campbell being the next highest at 88.3. He also holds a 96.7 grade as a pass rusher, which is at least 10 points higher than any other interior defensive lineman and at least seven points greater than the highest mark for any player every other defensive position.
It hasn't just been this season for Donald as his overall resume speaks for itself as through his first two seasons he accumulated 20.0 sacks, which led all defensive tackles during that span. He also earned a pair of Pro Bowl selections, a First Team All-Pro nod (2015), and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2014). This included leading all defensive tackles with 11.0 sacks in 2015 and posting a Rams' rookie record of 9.0 sacks the year prior.
On top of that, Donald leads all defensive tackles with 25.0 sacks since the start of the 2014 season putting him ahead of the likes of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Gerald McCoy (21.0) and Miami Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh (19.0). Over this span, his has recorded the second-most tackles for loss (52) in the league behind only Houston Texans' J.J. Watt (59).
The amount of dominance that Donald has had since entering the league in 2014 has also drawn the comparison to Hall of Famers John Randle and Warren Sapp at his position. He has become the complete package defensive player that has earned his spot at the top.
“The best way I can describe is just consistent week after week after week," Fisher said. "The tackles for losses and the pressure that he’s putting on the passer, the hits on the quarterbacks, they’re just consistent week after week. It’s amazing to see him play at that level every single play – come out, catch his breath, go back in and make another play.”