The Los Angeles Rams‘ journey to the NFC Title game has been led by stellar contributors on both sides of the ball. Of those key players, nobody has been as important as defensive stalwart Aaron Donald. By holding down the action in the middle of the defense, the Rams cruised to a 13-3 record in 2018. Individually, Donald finished with 59 tackles and 20.5 sacks–the highest total of his five-year professional career.
Prior to joining the Rams in the NFL, Donald rose from being a three-star recruit out of high school to being a unanimous All-American for the Pittsburgh Panthers. After emerging as one of the top defensive players in the country, the Rams selected Donald with pick No. 14 in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Early Turmoil & Coaching Changes at Pittsburgh
In a reserve role as a freshman, Donald appeared in 13 games for the Panthers and recorded two sacks. After a 10-win season in 2009, Pittsburgh sputtered down the stretch of the 2010 season. Head Coach Dave Wannstedt was removed from his duties and Phil Bennett took over prior to the Panthers’ victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Despite seeing limited action in an up-and-down season, it was clear that Donald was on his way to a bigger role as a sophomore.
Sophomore Breakout for Donald
Donald’s second year with Pittsburgh served as his coming out party. After just two sacks in his first season with the Panthers, the Pennslyvania native reached 11 sacks in his second year. Along with getting after the quarterback, Donald recorded 47 tackles, 16 of which were for a loss. Despite having a losing 6-7 record, the Panthers returned to the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Donald’s junior season once again put him at the center of the Panthers’ defense. His sack total dipped to 5.5, but he continued to make his presence felt with 64 tackles. Of those 64 tackles, 18.5 were tackles for a loss.
Dominating Senior Year
Donald’s final year cemented him as a future first-round pick. He once again recorded a double-digit sack total and produced 28 tackles for a loss. As new members of the ACC, Pittsburgh recorded their first winning season since Donald’s freshman year. In a 30-27 victory over Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Bowl, Donald notched one sack and five tackles.
Individually, Donald’s work in his final year with the Panthers earned him unanimous All-American honors. He then became the second defensive linemen selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, behind only Jadeveon Clowney.