The Rams finished the 2014 season with a lackluster 6-10 season, and once again finishing last in the NFC West. They haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2004 season (when the finished 8-8), and haven’t had a winning record since the 2003 season (when they went 12-4).
However, despite the disappointing season, there were some bright spots, and many players had strong seasons.
One of the those players, is rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Back in May, when the Rams drafted Donald with the 13th pick in the first round, the reception was mixed: many were happy to see such a skilled defensive lineman added to the line along with Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and Chris Long. But there were detractors. Others believed that the defensive line was already strong enough, and that the Rams needed to draft a player in a more needed position (they had also taken offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the 2nd overall pick).
Fast forward to the end of the 2014 season, and not only is the defensive tackle from Pittsburgh one of the best at his position, he has a strong chance of winning the “Defensive Rookie of the Year” Award, presented each year. His stats this season go as follows: in 16 games played, Donald had 47 combined tackles, 37 total tackles, 10 assisted tackles, nine sacks (which tied him for 20th in the NFL, and second on the Rams behind Quinn), two forced fumbles, and a pass deflection.
To say the least, it was a pretty good rookie season for the 23-year old.
Other players, such as Raiders’ linebacker Khalil Mack (75 combined tackles, four sacks), and Ravens linebacker C.J Mosely (133 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, two interceptions), also make good cases for “Defensive Rookie of the Year”.
However, it still seems that Donald is the favorite.
Throughout the season, whether it was Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or even Peyton Manning, the Rams defensive front disrupted the timing and presence of the quarterbacks and offensive lines, and the 6’1″ 285 pound Donald played a critical role in helping “Sack City” live up to their name.
During the course of the year, Aaron Donald helped stuff the run, pushed around opposing lineman, and used his strong speed to chase down scramblers trying to find running room, during a season in which the Rams were facing some of the best running backs and quarterbacks in the NFL. And it’s hard to find a Rams fan in St. Louis now that isn’t a fan of the rookie defensive tackle.
There’s a lot of talent on that front four of St. Louis (arguably the team’s biggest strength) and Aaron Donald’s arrival has made an already top-notch front even better than before, and they’ll look to continue that upward trend into the new year.
It’s apparent, even after just one season, that Donald will be on the Rams for quite a while, which is good for St. Louis…but bad for their opponents…
(Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)