It’s one thing to be a young defensive lineman walking into a facility and seeing Aaron Donald either lifting weights or manhandling a blocking sled. That young defender likely would become in awe of being in the presence of the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the Los Angeles Rams.
But here’s another aspect that young defender should think hard about — benefitting early in lining up next to Donald. That’s where the first defender the Rams selected Byron Young enters the picture.
Young, named a contender for the title of “the biggest sleeper” among the edge rusher draft class by SB Nation before the 2023 NFL Draft, gets to be the next edge rusher to fire off from the line of scrimmage with “A.D” next to him. And as one former Rams defender reminded fans last year, there’s the “A.D effect no one talks about” that has great potential to come into play for the rookie.
How ‘A.D. Effect’ Can Rub Off Young
Fifteen days after the Rams and Donald snatched the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February 2022, former Rams defensive lineman and member of the Rams’ broadcast team D’Marco Farr took to Twitter mention “The A.D. Effect.”
Farr, who won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in the 1999 season when the Rams were in St. Louis, mentioned how pass rushers on the edge have benefitted greatly next to Donald the moment they’re paired up with the perennial Pro Bowler.
Farr focused on how Dante Fowler delivered 13.5 sacks in a span of 20 games the moment he joined the Rams. But once he became teammates with Donald, the speedy edge rusher delivered his first career double-digit sack season of 11.5 in 2019. Fowler additionally hit career-highs in total tackles with 58, solo stops with 40, tackles for a loss with 16, plus also delivered a career-best six pass deflections in his first full regular season aligned with Donald.
But it’s not just Fowler who witnessed a production ascension next to Donald. Farr pointed out former Ram Leonard Floyd as another beneficiary of the effect. Floyd, in his first season playing next to A.D., produced his first career double-digit sack season in 2020 with 10.5. Floyd wasn’t through from there — posting back-to-back nine sack seasons (nine last year to lead the Rams) with Donald paired up with “Flo.”
But others have had the presence of Donald ignite them as well into having career-best numbers or a rejuvenation. Here’s who else received a spark from Donald:
Greg Gaines: Though Gaines is built more for the interior, he went from a combined two sacks his first two seasons in the league to combining for 8.5 aligned next to Donald in 2021 and 2022. Gaines additionally has tallied 10 tackles for a loss in becoming a more full-time starter for the Rams in his last two campaigns with the franchise before signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason.
Von Miller: Even an established veteran like Miller needed Donald to help reignite his fire. Miller went from 4.5 sacks in his final seven games with the Denver Broncos to getting nine in his 12 games as a Ram.
Clay Matthews: The fellow Super Bowl winning defender was another who was given his chance of one last strong season with Donald on his side. Matthews ended his career producing eight sacks — his most since his 11-sack production of 2014 while with the Green Bay Packers.
Any Idea of How Young Would be Used in the Rams Defense?
Roles are still too be determined with the Rams now off to mandatory minicamp. And that includes where Young will be lined up in.
But if past history with Fowler and Miller are any indication, Young will be attacking at a multitude of spots depending on the matchup that gets presented — which could mean being in a “wide-9” outside defensive end angle or being in a stand-up rush position. But, with his reported 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash, the Rams and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could get convinced to use that speed on designed twist plays with Donald to confuse offenses — where Young becomes the one to knife through the middle as seen here versus Alabama:
Yet, with Floyd rejoining Miller with the Buffalo Bills, the Rams may get more convinced to plug Young over an offensive tackle early and let him draw one-on-ones there.
Regardless, Young has a great chance to allow “the A.D. effect” to jump start his career right away…and join a list of 8-10 sack defenders who had No. 99 by their side.