Aaron Donald is probably the preeminent defensive talent of the past decade. Since his arrival in 2014, Donald has 98 career sacks, good for 40th all-time, a Defensive Rookie of the Year award and three Defensive Player of the year awards.
Aaron Donald in just 8 seasons:
⭐ 𝙎𝙪𝙥𝙚𝙧 𝘽𝙤𝙬𝙡 𝙘𝙝𝙖𝙢𝙥
⭐ 3× DPOY
⭐ 2010s All-Decade Team
⭐ 7× First-team All-Pro
⭐ 8× Pro Bowler
⭐ ROTY (2014)
⭐ Only 2 games missed — both not injury related.
One of the greatest the game has ever seen … pic.twitter.com/dJ6DTUbaLv
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 14, 2022
After Sunday night’s elite performance, he’s also a Super Bowl champion. Just eight years in and stamped with the all-time great tag. He’s certainly on his way to becoming one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history and some already consider him of that ilk.
But Stephen A. Smith might have gone a bit overboard with his assessment of Donald as the 30-year-old game-wrecker relates to the all-time greats.
“Aaron Donald is something special,” said Smith on Monday morning’s Super Bowl review on First Take.” Ladies and gentleman we have elevated to a point where the only name that you could possibly put above Aaron Donald Is Lawrence Taylor, and even that Is debatable. This man right now and what he does on the football field, consistently doubled and triple-teamed, once Cincinnati scored that touchdown, Aaron Donald took the hell over.”
Donald did have a tremendous Super Bowl LVI performance with four QB pressures, four tackles and two huge sacks of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
“He was a man amongst boys. And you know that hes the No. 1 individual opposing offenses have to worry about and key on when they talk about being effective and efficient in their own right and you still couldn’t stop this man.”
Stephen A. pointed to two plays in particular that inspired this hyperbole from him.
“That third own stop of (Joe) Mixon running the football, (Donald) had one arm on his defender and (still) prevented (the first down)”
He also pointed to Donald’s sack on Burrow that put a ring on the finger of the LA Rams players and legitimized the HOF career of Matt Stafford.
“Aaron Donald is something special, considering the pressure that was on him and the odds that were stacked against him, he was the MVP,” Smith added, although that honor went to Rams triple crown wideout Cooper Kupp.
Co-host Michael Irvin chimes in, ever the Cowboys fan, never giving the Giants any credit:
“If Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor had a baby, it would be named Aaron Donald,” said Irving, officially making a sham of the segment at that point.
Stephen A did backtrack a bit and say he defers to Bill Belichick on the subject. Belichick, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants as LT’s defensive coordinator, won’t even entertain any talk of there being a defensive player in history superior to the incomparable LT.
"He really has no weaknesses."
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) July 11, 2019
“Do you understand that with Bill Belichick, you can’t even approach him about somebody being better than Lawrence Taylor … and that resonated with me. You got guys who respect the hell out of Aaron Donald. Know that he’s the best in the game. You had people going up against Lawrence Taylor scared for their life. … Football players can answer the question from a nuanced perspective better than me, but …”
SAS went on to talk about how teams still have to game plan for Donald and he still has success despite being double-teamed. That’s true, but it’s also true for every Grade A defender in NFL history.
Some folks would say Stephen A. Smith is a serious prisoner of the moment. Donald probably isn’t even in the top three all-time at his position yet.
You can’t overlook a man named “The Secretary of Defense,” who revolutionized the defensive end position and coined the term “sacking a quarterback.”
He’s the originator. Considering he played from 1961-74, where TV coverage of the NFL was shoddy and sacks weren’t even officially record until 1982, it’s safe to say that the Hall of Famer’s standing in NFL history is underrated. The 6-foot-5 defensive end was an absolute terror.
You can’t just dismiss the exploits of Bruce Smith, the NFL’s all-time career leader in sacks. The former Buffalo Bills great had 200 of those things and was consistently an unstoppable force at the same degree or higher than Donald.
He played with one team for 19 seasons, made 11 Pro Bowls and played in four straight Super Bowls.
Shannon Sharpe is a bit more reasonable than Stephen A. Smith, but this was pre-Super Bowl.
Where would you rank Aaron Donald as the best defensive player of all time?
"He's Top 5 already, and I don't say that lightly because I played in the era of LT, Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Deion Sanders. Aaron Donald is the real deal." — @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/yD3cvbdOij
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) February 9, 2022
The “Minister Of Defense” played no games. He was relentless. Talented. The complete package. White is considered the premier defensive lineman in NFL history by more than a few football historians, experts, coaches and former players.
Both he and Smith revolutionized the position and struck terror in the hearts of opposing lineman on the inside and with blinding, destructive outside pass rushes that destroyed quarterbacks and demoralized fan bases.
Aaron Donald has achieved enough to be considered the best of the last decade, but NFL football has a deep, rich history of excellence and some of the greatest players to ever step on the gridiron were defensive lineman. So, let’s just say Donald is halfway to being considered on the same historical level as the aforementioned linemen. It’s unlikely he will ever ascend to the greatest ever because the one impenetrable wall to being the GOAT is LT.
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