DTR Top-10: Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald Clear No. 1

Blaine and Jake break down the top defensive linemen in the NFL. To nobody’s surprise, Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald comes in at No. 1.

Aaron Donald
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Twice a week this offseason Blaine Grisak and Jake Ellenbogen will share their top-10 players from each position in the NFL. We’ll discuss our lists and why we ranked players where we did as well as the position in general.

We also asked the rest of the Downtown Rams staff who their top-10’s were and will have a poll and its results at the end.

In this edition, Blaine and Jake unveil their top-10 defensive linemen in the NFL heading into the 2019 season and who is ready to take that next step.

Previous Top-10’s

Top-10 Quarterbacks

Top-10 Running Backs

Top-10 Wide Receivers

Top-10 Tight Ends

Top-10 Offensive Tackles

Top-10 Interior Offensive Linemen

Top 10 Defensive Linemen

Blaine

1. Aaron Donald – LAR
2. Fletcher Cox – PHI
3. Akiem Hicks – CHI
4. Shelby Harris – DEN
5. Damon Harrison – NYG
6. Chris Jones – KC
7. Kenny Clark – GB
8. DeForest Buckner – SF
9. Grady Jarrett – ATL
10. Leonard Williams – NYJ

Jake

1. Aaron Donald – LAR
2. Fletcher Cox – PHI
3. Chris Jones – KC
4. Akiem Hicks – CHI
5. Damon Harrison – NYG
6. DeForest Buckner – SF
7. Michael Pierce – BAL
8. Kenny Clark – GB
9. Grady Jarrett – ATL
10. Geno Atkins – CIN

Blaine: We’re moving on to the defensive line, and this will be a fun one. I don’t think there is any doubt who the best defensive lineman is. It’s Aaron Donald, and that’s not debatable. Cox is the clear No. 2 for me as well; then I have an underrated guy at No. 4 in Shelby Harris. Grady Jarrett has made a name for himself in Atlanta and then rounding out my list, I have Leonard Williams from the Jets. 

Jake: Yeah, Blaine I think the first one is the easiest pick you could make to be entirely honest. Aaron Donald is another level of talent, but as you said, Fletcher Cox is the definite No. 2. I love Chris Jones who came in at No. 3 for me and might overtake Cox later in his career. After that Akiem Hicks, the former Patriot who has reached another level in Chicago. Damon Harrison, who has proven to be dominant. DeForest Buckner has been an absolute monster, and he continues to get overlooked. Finally, I finished it off with Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce, Green Bay Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark, Atlanta’s Super Bowl standout Grady Jarrett, and Geno Atkins. 

Blaine: I guess we’ll start with  Aaron Donald. This is a guy that was overlooked by more than a dozen teams on draft day due to his smaller size, but he has come in and improved every year. He’s earned back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors. Last offseason he signed massive contract and to say the least he lived up to that. With that said, the Rams paid a defensive tackle over $100M. What are your thoughts about the contract and then what is it that makes Donald so unique?

Jake: So, with the contract, I didn’t love the holding out because it sends the wrong message to the team. Plus you aren’t there to install the defense and all of that. However, this is Aaron Donald. He was back to his old self week three of the 2017 season after missing the first week due to a holdout.

Donald’s contract is a lot of money but in the grand scheme of things he’s the best player in football. The Donald contract is a bargain because he is likely outplaying that.

The thing that makes Donald so unique is his overall quickness, the way he can contort his body and get through the offensive line by any means. What he does when he gets through it is incredible, but it doesn’t just stop at putting a dent into a quarterback or running back.

It’s more impressive how he rips through the interior of the offensive line. He likes to club the other offensive linemen, which makes it easier for his teammates. Donald makes everyone on his team better, and he makes everyone on the opposing team worse. That is how rare, how special, and how great Aaron Donald is.

Blaine: I don’t want to spend the entire time talking about Donald, but we are Downtown Rams, and Donald is a special player. You said it, Donald makes everyone on the defense better and is a big reason why they can get away with potentially starting an inexperienced guy like  Greg Gaines this year.

When you look at the best defensive linemen of all-time – Warren Sapp, Reggie White, Merlin Olson, etc. – where does Donald rank among the all-time greats at this stage of his career? Then he came very close to the sack record previous season, do you think he gets it or was last year his one opportunity?

Jake: I absolutely believe he gets it. I have him at 24.5 sacks this year. Bold? Yes. But it is worth mentioning Donald didn’t have a sack until week four this past year and still almost broke the record. It’s also worth mentioning he had two sacks that he had taken away from him due to roughing the passer calls. Ultimately, I expect Donald will end up with the sack record. As far as rankings go? Donald is ahead of everyone besides Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Reggie White and John Randle. He will be at the top when it’s all said and done; however, Reggie White is on top of that list at the moment though.

Blaine: I like it. I do think it’s early to crown him the GOAT, but with two Defensive Player of the Year awards, he’s well on his way. Next, I want to get into rookies. We did it with the edge players, but this was just such a special class. Quinnen Williams was arguably the best player in the draft, and then Ed Oliver can be mentioned there as well. Many saw him as an undersized player who can succeed like Donald. Who are the guys that you enjoyed coming out of the draft and who do you think could be on this list next year? 

Jake: I love Jets first-rounder Quinnen Williams and Bills first-rounder Ed Oliver, but I also want to mention draft prospects: Jeffery Simmons of the Titans, Khalen Saunders of the Chiefs and Trysten Hill of the Cowboys. I think these guys are about to take the league by storm as well. As far as guys that could be on the list next year, that probably narrows my list down. Williams is unreal and could easily crack the top 10. Oliver could as well, but with Simmons rehabbing a severe injury I don’t see that happening that quickly for him. Saunders and Hill are the long-term gems that could end up being the Kenny Clark and Chris Jones type of players that pop down the road.

Blaine: I know you were a massive fan of  Saunders in the draft process, and I agree on all fronts. I’ll be interested to see if Oliver overcomes his size like Donald did. I guess we’ll hit our honorable mentions now as it’s about that time. I believe Michael Brockers is one of the more underrated guys in the NFL. He’s been solid his entire career and never gotten the recognition. Then Atkins would have to be in that conversation for me as well.

Jake: I was a huge fan of Saunders, and then I had a chance to meet him in person and have him on the show twice, he’s another level on the field and off of it. Oliver had all of that slander against him during his time at Houston and somehow went from being by far the best player everyone wanted to tank for, to falling a little bit in the draft. Both are going to be good. As far as honorable mentions go, you have to start with Green Bay’s Mike Daniels, then of course Michael Brockers, Denver’s Shelby Harris, New England’s Lawrence Guy, Chicago’s own Eddie Goldman, Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Cameron Heyward and the two young studs in Detroit – A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand. It’s going to be exciting to watch this crop get better and watch the youngsters like Williams, Oliver, Saunders, Hill, and Simmons develop.

Blaine: Alright Jake, that’s going to do it for our defensive linemen. Next week we’ll hit linebackers and I’m excited to see who makes your list because I’m sure there will be a few surprises. 

DTR Top-10

Top-10 (First Place Votes)

1. Aaron Donald – LAR (5)
2. Fletcher Cox – PHI
3. Chris Jones – KC
4. Akiem Hicks – CHI
5. Damon Harrison – NYG
T6. DeForest Buckner – SF
T6. Geno Atkins – CIN
8. Grady Jarrett – ATL
9. Kawaan Short – CAR
10. Shelby Harris – DEN

Others Receiving Votes: Cameron Hayward – PIT,  Kenny Clark – GB, Brandon Williams – BAL, Jurrell Casey – TEN, Kenny Clark – GB,  Michael Pierce – BAL, Jaran Reed – SEA, Sheldon Rankins – NO, Sheldon  Richardson – CLE, Denico Autry – IND, Leonard Williams – NYJ, Dalvin Thompson – NYJ

Tyler Browning: 1. Aaron  Donald, 2. Fletcher Cox, 3. DeForest Buckner, 4. Chris Jones, 5. Geno Atkins, 6. Damon Harrison, 7. Akiem Hicks, 8. Jaran Reed, 9. Sheldon Rankins, 10. Denico Autry

Bill Riccette: 1. Aaron Donald, 2. Fletcher Cox, 3. Chris Jones, 4. Kawann Short, 5. Grady Jarrett, 6. Brandon Williams, 7. Geno Atkins, 8. Jurrell Casey, 9. Sheldon Richardson, 10. Dalvin Thomlinson

Alex Washburn: 1. Aaron Donald, 2. Fletcher Cox, 3. Akeim Hicks, 4. Chris Jones, 5. Cameron Hayward, 6. Geno Atkins, 7. Grady Jarrett, 8. Kenny Clark, 9. Jurrell Casey, 10. Kawaan Short

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