As preparations for the 2022 NFL season hit full steam, the intensity spilled over on Thursday during a joint training session. Players from the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals got embroiled in a massive brawl and footage that emerged online caught the eye, with many fans noticing the role of Aaron Donald, the star defensive lineman of the Rams, in particular. Donald, who is widely considered one of the best defensive players to grace the game, was seen wielding Bengals helmets in each hand and swinging around at fellow brawlers of the opposing team.
Also read: NFL: Top 5 major on-field fights in last decade
To turn our attention away from the unsavoury scenes from yesterday, we have decided to look at what has made Donald such a respected character in the sport in the first place—his defensive game, and identify some of the top defensive talent that shall be on offer this upcoming season.
Here’s our list of 5.
Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Within a span of 8 seasons in the NFL, Donald has marked himself up as not just one of the best of the current crop but also as one of the top defensive players of all time. The Los Angeles Rams’ star defensive tackle has recorded at least 8 sacks in each season he has featured in the NFL, and 5 consecutive double-digit sacks in the last five.
Just to highlight how far apart the 31-year-old stands from his peers, Seth Walder, an analytics writer notes–– “Donald has not only finished first in pass rush win rate (PRWR) at defensive tackle in all five seasons of the metric’s existence, but his worst PRWR season in that span (24.2% in 2020) is more than two percentage points higher than the best season by any other defensive tackle (Grady Jarrett at 21.5% in 2019).”
Donald won the Super Bowl LVI in 2022 and has been named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year on three separate occasions.
T. J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year of 2021 matched the record for most sacks in a single season last year having made 22.5 in the 2021 season, and this was despite missing 2 games. His qualities as a bonafide elite NFL linebacker are highlighted by the fact that he has been a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year in the two previous seasons as well. The exciting part about his career is that it seems like he still has the potential to grow further and add to his already impressive set of skills.
Also read: Aaron Donald comes out swinging in Rams Bengals joint practice fight: Watch
Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Since he entered the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ramsey has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He made the Pro Bowl twice and was named an All-Pro in 2017, helping the Jaguars to their first playoffs in 10 years. Since getting traded to the LA Rams, he has been an ideal foil for star defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, cleaning up behind him with his elite shutdown and coverage skills. In fact, it was this defensive bedrock that set the foundation for the Rams’ charge all the way to the Super Bowl LVI in 2022.
Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
The defensive end started his NFL career in 2017 when the Browns made him the 1st pick of the 2017 draft, and since then, he has been named to three Pro Bowls and 2 first-team All-Pros in his career already. He was named a defensive captain for the Browns in only his second season in the NFL.
In the 2021 season, Garrett enjoyed his most productive campaign so far, making a career-high 16 sacks and 51 tackles throughout the season. At 26, he is well on course to continue his upward trajectory in the NFL.
Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
The 23-year-old hybrid linebacker has taken the league by storm since he made his debut last season. His 12 sacks in the first 13 games off his rookie season were the 4th highest ever by a rookie, and he was voted into the Pro Bowl, named an Associated Press 1st team All-Pro, and was the unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year. He will be looking to stamp his authority in his upcoming second season to ensure his rookie season isn’t seen as a one-off, but his explosive entry into the NFL means he simply cannot be ignored.
Also read: Aaron Donald: All controversies around the Los Angeles Rams star
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
The 24-year-old defensive end began his NFL career in 2019 after being the 2nd overall pick of the 2019 draft and immediately went about validating his worth as he helped his team reach the Super Bowl LIV in his rookie season itself. That and his 9 sacks ensured he earned the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was also named to the Pro Bowl that year.
While a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2020 robbed him of the opportunity to build on his rookie season, he returned in 2021 with a point to prove and enjoyed a highly productive season, making 15.5 sacks and a league-leading 21 tackles-for-loss, thereby getting called for the second Pro Bowl of his career.