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Aaron Donald accomplished everything he wanted to during storied NFL career

When you announce your retirement from the NFL, and the media and fans immediately begin to ask if you’re the greatest ever at your position, well, that’s rarefied air.

That’s a level above Hall of Fame talk.

Aaron Donald, the legendary Rams defensive tackle who announced his retirement from the NFL on March 15, is breathing that air.

Mean Joe Greene. Reggie White. Randy White. Merlin Olsen. Bob Lilly. Aaron Donald.

That’s NFL royalty, right there, my friend.

Donald played 10 seasons. He was named a First-team All-Pro eight times. He made the Pro Bowl each of his 10 seasons. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014. Speaking of 2014, that was the year the Rams, still residing in St. Louis, selected Donald with the 13th pick in the NFL Draft.

Listed at 6-1 and 280 pounds, Donald was considered to be undersized as he began his pre-draft process. Perhaps that’s why he was only rated as a three-star recruit when he graduated from Penn Hills High School in 2009. According to his Wikipedia Page, Donald only received scholarship offers from Toledo, Akron, Rutgers and the University of Pittsburgh, his hometown college that was located just miles from Penn Hills High School.

Donald decided to enroll at Pitt.

Donald had a breakout season as a sophomore, recording 11 sacks and receiving Second-team All-Big East honors. He received First-team All-Big East honors in his junior season. But it was in Donald’s senior year, after the Panthers moved to the ACC, that he really put himself on the NFL’s radar; Donald recorded 59 tackles in 2013–including 28.5 tackles for loss–11 sacks and four forced fumbles. In addition to being voted First-team All-ACC and a Unanimous All-American, Donald was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He received every piece of hardware imaginable during his senior season–including the Bronko Nagurski Award; Chuck Bednarik Award; Lombardi Award; Outland Trophy; and Bill Willis Trophy.

College is one thing. What would a 280-pound defensive tackle be able to do at the NFL level?

Whatever he wanted to do, as it turned out.

Donald played in 154 games over 10 seasons and recorded 111 quarterback sacks. He tallied 176 tackles for loss, 24 forced fumbles and even 21 passes defensed.

Back to those NFL honors–especially the ones that earned him a seat at the table next to Mean Joe and Reggie.

It was in Los Angeles, after the Rams moved back there in 2016, where Donald’s career really took off. He earned his first Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. He won the award again in 2018. He was named DPOY for a third time in 2020.

Three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. Who were the only other NFL players to do that? How about Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt? Like I said, rarefied air.

To see Donald in action was to witness total dominance, play in and play out; he was simply unblockable, certainly by one offensive lineman. No, you needed at least two hogs to take him on, otherwise, he would have spent the majority of the game in the other team’s backfield.

He still camped out there a lot, even with those double-teams.

In addition to every other defensive award on the planet, Donald won the Deacon Jones Award in 2018 and was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team.

That’s a lot of individual hardware. What about a team award–the Lombardi Trophy–and one more piece of personal hardware–a Super Bowl ring?

Just three years after coming up short against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, Donald finally got his team trophy and his own ring when the Rams outlasted the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Who was the most dominant player on the game’s most crucial play? That’s right, it was Donald, who broke through and pressured quarterback Joe Burrow into throwing an errant pass on fourth down in the final seconds.  After Donald clinched the team championship, he paraded around SoFi Stadium–the Rams home venue–and gestured to his ring finger.

He was telling his Rams fanatics in attendance that he finally earned the most important piece of personal hardware.

Donald, who showed no signs of slowing down even through his 10th season, could have kept going and earning more individual hardware.

But I guess there was no need. After all, few players accomplished more than Donald–both personally and in a team sense–during his decade in the NFL.

Aaron Donald may have been an undersized defensive tackle, but he’s not going to have a problem finding a gold jacket that fits him perfectly when the NFL immortalizes him in Canton in his very first year of eligibility.


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