It’s been quite the season for the Los Angeles Rams under second-year Head coach Sean McVay. The team arguably has the most complete roster in football, three MVP candidates in their stead and of course the ever-growing home field-advantage that could turn into the league’s best over the next half decade. It’s all going right for the Rams, but why is it that a 10-1 team that has a QB on pace for over 5,000 yards, 38 TD’s, a RB that is flirting with having maybe the greatest year ever for a RB and a defensive lineman that is on pace to threaten Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record are somehow not being given the respect they deserve?
Sure, many around the landscape have caught up to the idea the Rams are an elite team but after one bad game from Todd Gurley where he was arguably injured during the beginning of the game on an awkward sideline tackle by Chiefs LB Dorian O’Daniel, Gurley is now out of the conversation for MVP. Patrick Mahomes is firmly in the discussion and while he had 6 touchdowns against the Rams, he lost the game and to make a further point he had seven combined turnovers in his two biggest games versus the Rams and the Patriots. Mahomes is phenomenal and this is not to take away from him but it seems as though maybe Gurley is getting the short end of the rod here? How about Saints QB Drew Brees? He’s arguably the greatest QB never talked about but Brees just had his worst game in the Saints second loss of the season that could have officially relinquished the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s a big-time stinker on Thursday Night Football. The problem is that Gurley is a RB, he’s not throwing the football and that was explained to me by Czar of the Playbook and Founder of Football Gameplan, Emory Hunt. It’s simple, Gurley should have won the coveted award last year, but Tom Brady was 40 and so that took precedence. The MVP award has a new meaning and a new definition when the shoe fits, if it’s just a QB award now, can’t we just call it a QB award?
You may think that this whole thing is an argument for Todd Gurley, quite frankly, Gurley in my eyes was the top candidate along with Mahomes but recently I have changed my tune. Jared Goff deserves some serious consideration but the real MVP of the National Football League is really Aaron Donald. Donald is the best player by all accounts in the league regardless of position and we are easily laying eyes on a top 3 defensive player all-time when it is all said and done. The former Pittsburgh star that fell in the draft due to height and overall size concerns has clearly gotten the last laugh. This year he became the highest paid defensive player (only until the next day the Bears changed that and made Khalil Mack the highest paid defensive player) but Donald has lived up to the hype and then some. You do realize Donald is a bio-weapon for the defense right? You do realize everything he has done has been with a porous secondary right? You do realize that Donald has been double-teamed and sometimes even triple-teamed and still produces right? It’s not just because it sounds cool or backs up my statement, Donald puts the stats up on the board for you to practically laugh it. It’s not normal what Donald has been able to do over his career but this year is beyond all doubts one of the scariest campaigns for a defensive player and the season isn’t over..
Let’s just take a look: Aaron Donald is graded as the best defensive interior lineman by Pro Football Focus which is pretty much the 3rd or 4th straight year that has been the case. Donald leads all players at his position with 77 total pressures on the QB which is asinine because the next guy is Fletcher Cox with 61 and then after him you have Geno Atkins with 48. Donald has 14.5 sacks with five games left to play, the next guy has nine sacks. Donald also proves he’s not just a sack artist, he wins in the run defensive game and he shows you that with his league-leading 32 defensive stops. That’s just for his position but when you put him and compare him to the edge defenders this is where it gets beyond silly. Donald has 77 pressures like previously mentioned, the top edge defender has 59 and that’s Dee Ford. Danielle Hunter has 12 sacks along with TJ Watt and Von Miller but none of which have more than interior monster Aaron Donald. Remember back in 2014 when JJ Watt received 13 MVP votes and came in second place to Aaron Rodgers? It was the first time this century that a defensive player had more than three votes. That is certainly telling, and while Watt’s season was historic…Let’s compare Donald’s 2018 campaign versus Watt’s 2014 campaign.
Full 2018 Season JJ Watt: 1,057 Snaps, 20.5 Sacks, 119 Total Pressures, 50 Tackles, 61 Defensive Stops, 4 Forced Fumbles
Projected 2018 Season Aaron Donald: 896 snaps, 22 Sacks, 112 Total Pressures, 36 Tackles, 46 Defensive Stops, 4 Forced Fumbles
Pretty close… Now let’s compare the two as of right now Donald has only played 11 games and now let’s throw those next to Watt through his first 11 games:
Watt Through 11 Games in 2014: 746 Snaps, 9.5 Sacks, 70 Total Pressures, 34 Solo Tackles, 38 Defensive Stops, 15 TFLs, 30 QB Hits, 2 Forced Fumbles, 4 Fumble Recoveries
Donald Through 11 Games in 2018: 616 Snaps, 14.5 Sacks, 77 Total Pressures, 25 Solo Tackles, 32 Defensive Stops, 16 TFLs, 28 QB Hits, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries
Now, let’s compare Donald to the single-season sack record-holder Michael Strahan…
Full 2001 Season Michael Strahan: 22.5 Sacks, 60 Solo Tackles, 24 TFLs, 18 QB Hits, 6 Forced Fumbles, Fumble Recovery
Projected 2018 Season Aaron Donald: 22 Sacks, 36 Solo Tackles, 23 TFLs, 41 QB Hits, 4 Forced Fumbles, 3 Fumbles Recoveries
Close, considering Michael Strahan played as a 4-3 defensive end. Now let’s take a look at the two through 11 games:
Strahan Through 11 Games in 2001: 15.5 Sacks, 43 Solo Tackles, 11 QB hits, 6 Forced Fumbles
Donald Through 11 Games in 2018: 14.5 Sacks, 25 Solo Tackles, 28 QB Hits, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumbles Recoveries
Unfortunately with Strahan you cannot find the snap count or things like pressures but you have to imagine Donald would be right there with him in that regard. The point being, Donald is having a historic year, he’s right with JJ Watt despite Watt having already played 130 more snaps than Donald to this point in the season. It’s not just about what Donald has done compared to other defensive players though, because you have to make the argument for a defensive player over the the rest of the league. This is the tricky part but as of right now here’s what we have for Donald vs. the other MVP candidates.
9-2 QB Patrick Mahomes: 3,628 YDs, 37 TDs, 10 INTs, 10 YPA, 67.5 COMP%
Argument for: He’s practically a rookie, he’s leading the charge in Kansas City with one of the top high-powered offense in the league. He’s not dinking-and-dunking his way to fame either, Mahomes averages 10 yards per attempt which proves he’s throwing deep and winning more often than not.
Argument against: While Mahomes has been great, he still has turned the ball over 12 times and has fumbled five times that have been recovered. To say Mahomes is careless with the ball really isn’t fair but against the Rams and Patriots, Mahomes turned the ball over 7 combined times. MVP candidate Aaron Donald forced two fumbles on Mahomes and logged 10 pressures on the talented QB which led to a head-to-head loss. Does that give Aaron Donald a tie-breaker over Mahomes? It might. It’s definitely fair to use that against him since Donald changed the game in the Rams 54-51 win over Mahomes’ 6 touchdown performance. You definitely can look at Drew Brees and see what he is doing is just as good and likely more efficient.
10-2 QB Drew Brees: 3.262 YDs, 30 TDs, 3 INTs, 9.7 YPA, 75.5 COMP%
Argument for: He’s arguably the best QB in football and maybe ever. He’s leading the 10-2 Saints that have the top statistically scoring offense in the NFL. Brees isn’t dinking-and-dunking either, he averages almost 10 yards per attempt and has had to work with receivers Keith Kirkwood, Tre’Quan Smith, no Tight end anywhere near the level of Travis Kelce and without his Left tackle for a few games. Regardless, Brees still does have a ton of weapons but the point is that Brees can do it with anyone. He went head-to-head with Donald in a 45-35 shootout, while Donald didn’t destroy the game the way he did to Mahomes he did force seven pressures on the 39-year-old QB and got four hits on Brees. Brees did beat the Rams and has a win over Donald head-to-head which should count for something.
Argument against: At the same time Brees, as great as he’s been somehow managed to lose to the Buccaneers earlier in the year and then absolutely threw up a dud on Thursday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys to potentially relinquish home-field advantage to the Rams. Donald’s arguable worst game was the game he had just one sack against the Seahawks, Brees just had his worst game where he threw one touchdown but threw a costly interception to lose the Saints the game and didn’t even log 200 yards. Patrick Mahomes worst game of the season was against Jacksonville where he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns but his team went onto win 30-14.
6-5 QB Andrew Luck: 3,112 YDs, 32 TDs, 11 INTs, 7.1 YPA, 68.4 COMP%
Argument for: Luck is one of the best QB’s and a great story coming off of two years of not playing football. He’s had to play with a roster that was decimated early on with injuries and now has led the healthy Colts to a 6-5 record after starting off 1-5. Luck has had to lead his team back and hasn’t had quite the defense you would like to see him have. Luck is carrying the Colts into the playoffs, they have won five-straight and now that he, himself, is fully healthy he has a chance to be the MVP if he indeed leads the Colts to the playoffs. He’s their entire offense, you talk about the Most VALUABLE to their team, it might be Luck since as good as Jacoby Brissett can be, he’s no Andrew Luck.
Argument against: He’s lost five games, whether it’s his fault or not if there is even a tie-breaker to be made it’s going to Brees or Mahomes just off of that. He hasn’t thrown nearly as deep as the other QB candidates and as great as he’s been, it’s still no guarantee the Colts make the playoffs like it is with the Saints and Chiefs. While Luck is starting to turn it on, Brees, Donald, Mahomes and others have been dominant much longer.
10-1 QB Jared Goff: 3,547 YDs, 26 TDs, 6 INTs, 9.3 YPA, 67.7 COMP%
Argument for: Before you even bring up 0-7 or small hands or god forbid “system QB” you need to first give Jared Goff loads of credit. Goff leads the league in fourth-quarter comebacks, he’s having an unbelievable season and really, he’s left a lot of opportunities out on the field. A 67.6 completions percentage puts him right at the top, he lost one of his top weapons Cooper Kupp, his star RB aforementioned Todd Gurley was banged up in the Chiefs game and Goff in the bright lights of Los Angeles pulled off a comeback win in the final minutes against the best team in the AFC. Goff has led the 10-1 Rams over the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Phil Rivers, Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes. He’s played three primetime games thus far and in those primetime games he’s had 12 total touchdowns and 0 interceptions. When the pressure is on Goff looks like one of the top QB’s in the league and is a key reason why the Rams are 10-1 and potentially going to be the #1 seed in the NFC. A loss to Brees on the road hurts but a head-to-head win over Mahomes should help. Goff has had at least a 100 passer rating in eight out of his first 11 games.
Argument against: Goff isn’t even the best MVP candidate on his side of the ball, that might have to go to Gurley and then you have Donald who is likely more valuable than both. Goff did lose head-to-head against Brees and has shown to be a little fumble-prone thus far after fumbling away the ball six times. The constant brilliance from Goff has been evident but even when the stats look good, Goff has missed some huge throws that make you scratch your head. Is he an MVP candidate? Yes, and he might honestly be ahead of Mahomes but it’s hard to put him over Donald, or Gurley or Brees. He has a chance to take over the race but as of right now he’s third or fourth on the list.
10-1 RB Todd Gurley: 1.043 Rushing YDs, 13 Rushing TDs, 5.0 YPA, 43 REC, 441 YDs, 4 Receiving TDs, 10.3 YPC
Argument for: Gurley was robbed last year in the MVP race and to be entirely honest he’s having a much better season and has meant even more to his team that is even better this season than last. Gurley is just two touchdowns away from last year’s impressive clip and that is with five games left to play. His running and receiving has set up the Rams offense to beat anyone at any time. Goff can really lean on Gurley in a tight situation and Gurley isn’t going to let him down. Gurley’s not just a receiving back or a running back but he can do it all and that is mentioning pass protection which he continues to get better with. The Rams star RB is clearly in the mix for the MVP award and he should likely be in it until the end with the way he’s playing this season for the NFC’s current #1 seed. Gurley is a key “closer” for the Rams because you know he’s a player that the Rams can turn to to close out the game and put it away with his superb running ability in between the tackles or outside the tackles. Gurley in this way makes him one of the most valuable players in the league and when you look at games in which he scores three touchdowns or any game in which he scores you can see his explosion and how a drive that looks bleak can turn into a touchdown in a blink of an eye. He’s an elite athlete, knowledgable, he’s been a leader for this team and he’s one of the few game-breakers in the NFL that change the way you call a game. The Chiefs were so focused on Todd Gurley in their game that they basically begged the Rams to throw it on them by stacking the box. That’s how valuable he is.
Argument against: Whether it’s fair or not the Rams offensive line is one of the best in football and it has led to Gurley actually seeing a lot more opportunities and wide open holes to his advantage. That’s not to say Gurley isn’t making things happen but when you watch Malcolm Brown come in and run through wide open holes as well it’s easy to see why people will penalize Gurley. Samuel Gold, an analyst for the Athletic broke this all down by separating yards per carry averages into RB carry percentage and OL carry percentage. The point here is that Gurley and Brown both had the same yards per carry when this stat was quantified but with Brown his offensive line help amounted to 3.9 yards per carry which means Brown was doing the 1.1 other yards on his own while Gurley was doing 1.8 on his own. Clearly Gurley is better than Brown but when you put Gurley next to others this is where it gets interesting. Rookie Giants RB Saquon Barkley has been behind a pitiful offensive line and so he average .3 less yards per carry than Gurley but with Saquon he accounts for 2.7 yards of his carries which is a much higher output than Gurley. Chris Carson of the Seahawks accumulates for 1.9 yards of his yards per carry average which is also higher than Gurley and Nick Chubb of the Browns accumulates 3.7 of his yards per carry average and the offensive line is only 2.5 of that. It’s not to say Gurley isn’t an MVP but you can see the arguments against it and these are good metrics to show you what a RB is doing when he is faced with immediate blockage in the running game. Gurley’s last argument to be made against him is that even though he’s been dominant this season, he barely showed up against the Chiefs and the Rams had Jared Goff and Aaron Donald help lead their team to a 54-51 point win over the Chiefs. Whether it’s fair or not that took a hit to Todd’s MVP resume.
All of that and here’s why the man below is my MVP in the league right now…
10-1 DL Aaron Donald: 14.5 Sacks, 77 Total Pressures, 25 Solo Tackles, 32 Defensive Stops, 16 TFLs, 28 QB Hits, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries
Aaron Donald is the best player in the league. Notice how every year someone tries to argue that a different QB should be considered the best. We hear every year, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and it just never stops. It never goes away, it’s always a bunch of QB’s and Aaron Donald. Donald has been consistently the best player for the last three years, he just played on a 4-12 Jeff Fisher-coached Rams team so you didn’t pay any attention to it. The fact of the matter is this, now, even though Donald plays in the trenches, he’s getting sacks. This is his best year as a pro which beats out the other amazing years he had as a pro. He was finally named DPOY last year and it took the Rams to be good for this to even be a thing.
Well, now the best player in the league is arguably leading the best team in the league on defense. Donald is doing this with a decimated secondary (albeit they did just get Aqib Talib back) but it hasn’t mattered. Aaron Donald has been double-teamed on 72% of his snaps, let that just sink in, it’s not an opinion it’s a stone-cold fact that the ESPN crew highlighted during the Monday Night Football game. It literally does not matter who you put on Donald, he makes a play or does something to force a domino effect into another teammate making a play. Donald has had three games this season with 10 pressures on the QB or more. Donald has amounted 77 pressures on the season, you know why the Rams went out and traded for Dante Fowler? Because the team has 140 pressures when you don’t factor in Donald. Donald has more than half of the Rams pressures on the QB. What about sacks? 14.5? That’s half of the Rams sack total since they have 29 on the year. When you need a play on defense, Donald is there to get it for you and he has continued to bail out what has been a lackluster season on defense all year. Here’s the Rams defensive output this season if you don’t believe me…
Rams Defensive Stats
Points Allowed: 21st (25.6)
Passing Yards Allowed: 19th (2,779)
Passing Yards Allowed per Attempt: 27th (8.1)
Passer Completion Percentage Allowed: 18th (65.8)
Passer Rating Against: 27th (101.6)
Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 19th (253)
Passing TDs Allowed: T-31st (25)
Interceptions Forced: T-13th (10)
Interception TDs: T-2nd (2)
Pass breakups: T-18th (44)
Sacks Forced: T-14th (29)
Yards Taken Away From Sacks: 7th (238)
Forced Fumbles: T-8th (12)
Fumble Recoveries: 2nd (10)
Fumble Return TDs: T-5th (1)
How vital has Donald been to this one-loss team’s effort? Extremely vital. It’s crazy how this year with the coverage as bad as it’s ever been for the Rams, Donald has been able to log 77 pressures and 14.5 sacks. This is just another reason why he is the MVP, when you look at how needed he is on defense when you look out how vital he was to win that game against the Chiefs. Everyone is going to forget how the Chiefs actually were outscoring the Rams, the offense was being halted, and if it wasn’t for Donald forcing the only fumbles lost on the year for Patrick Mahomes, that game could have ended in a loss. The offense didn’t help after starting off great and so Donald and company had to step up. According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams have the 16th highest coverage grade which ranks them as the team right in the middle of the pack but also according to PFF the Rams have the second highest pressure grade and when you look at the fact Donald has half the pressures this team has logged over the course of this season it’s easy to see why they are so high and that is simply because of Aaron Donald.
Ndamukong Suh has only amassed four sacks and 35 pressures so before you use what is around Donald as the excuse not to vote him as MVP…stop. Donald is far and beyond what could be expected, the Rams will play the team tomorrow that made their dream of drafting him a reality after passing on him for now-Colts TE Eric Ebron. The Rams have their MVP and so does the league, if you are going to give Mahomes the MVP because of his youth you’re wrong, if you’re going to give the MVP to Drew Brees for the simple fact he’s never won it before you are wrong, if you are going to give it to Andrew Luck because of his comeback season you are wrong and can simply vote for him as a the Comeback Player of the Year, if you are going to give it to Gurley over Donald well, it would mean that a QB didn’t win the award but you still are wrong and even if you are going to give it to Jared Goff, as great as he’s looked you are wrong again.
The only guy that can receive this award is the guy that year-after-year there’s no debate, he continues to get better, he continues to be a bigger part of the team and now he’s at the forefront leading a struggling defense on their way to a potential Super Bowl. It seems harsh to call people wrong for not voting for one of the many magnificent QB’s in the NFL but once again just look around you. Jared Goff has Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Gerald Everett, Josh Reynolds and Todd Gurley. Drew Brees has Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Tre’Quan Smith and Mark Ingram. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreke Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and had Kareem Hunt. Andrew Luck has five losses, Todd Gurley has Jared Goff and arguably the best offensive line in the league. Aaron Donald? He’s a one-man army. He’s received contributions out of John Johnson III, Cory Littleton, Ndamukong Suh but aside from that Donald doesn’t turn to the team to bail him out on defense the defense and sometimes the offense with two MVP candidates turn to Donald. You can say it, it’s okay…Aaron Donald is in fact the MVP of the NFL. As the weeks go by the picture just becomes more and more clear.