It’s no secret: Aaron Donald knows how to change the phase of a football game for the Los Angeles Rams.
One look at “A.D’s” stats and you’ll see the tackles and sacks pileup he’s had since 2014. Take another glance at the Super Bowl 56 film and you’ll see the presence he commanded and the game-defining plays that many believed should have led him to the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
But there’s a Super Bowl champion Rams defender who has gotten to know “A.D” who shared on Monday, February 28 about a side of Donald that, as he put it, “no one talks about.”
The ‘A.D’ Effect
Former Rams defensive tackle D’Marco Farr, who won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in St. Louis in the 1999 season and has since been a part of the Rams’ broadcast team, took to Twitter to reveal “The A.D. Effect.”
What exactly is that? As Farr detailed in his tweet, it’s the effect Donald has had with fellow pass rushers or defenders next to him.
Farr zeroed in on two players in particular — one who played with Donald and another who lines up alongside him now: Dante Fowler and Leonard Floyd.
It’s quite the effect Donald has had on others — and it cements the case to take a deeper dive.
The Truth Behind the ‘A.D.’ Effect
Let’s take a look at the recently released Fowler.
Before arriving to L.A. via trade in 2018, Fowler’s best season was 2017 when he recorded eight sacks.
And that was a Jaguars team that featured a loaded defense especially a three-way rotation at defensive end with him, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue — the latter two producing 14.5 and 12 sacks respectively. Fowler also had Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson (8 sacks that season) next to him along the trenches.
But Campbell, Ngakoue and Jackson’s sack production took a dive the following year. While Campbell and Ngakoue combined for 20 sacks (Campbell led with 10.5), Jackson dipped to 3.5. Fowler mustered just two sacks before getting sent away to the Rams.
With the Rams, Fowler benefitted greatly playing on a defensive line with Donald. This play from 2018 shows not only a disruption in the backfield from Fowler, but additionally showed the Detroit Lions creating trench traffic against Donald — which eventually freed up Fowler:
Here’s another example of the “A.D. effect:” Donald is double teamed against the Carolina Panthers. But Fowler loops around A.D. and takes advantage, leading to the sack of Cam Newton.
Yes, Fowler did indeed produced the number of sacks Farr mentioned in both stops with the Jags and Rams. But Fowler since then has never surpassed the 4.5 sack mark. He hasn’t played with a dominant interior defensive lineman like Donald.
Farr is also accurate in saying the outside linebacker Floyd has seen a career spike in sacks with Donald on his side.
Before his arrival to the Rams, Floyd had never gone past seven sacks with the Chicago Bears (best season was his 7 sack campaign in his rookie year of 2016). Floyd since teaming with Donald? He’s yet to fall below 9.5 sacks in a season.
Here’s one more wrinkle of the creativity Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was able to input with Floyd and Donald lined up together: Both send the heat up the right side and Floyd finishes with the sack and fumble during their playoff romp of the Arizona Cardinals.
Anyone Else Benefiting From the ‘A.D. Effect?’
Let’s face it: If you’re a defensive player and you play alongside Donald, you’re almost guaranteed a career spark or career rejuvenation.
Take Greg Gaines as one example. The young defensive tackle works against the solo block while Donald commands two Ravens. Gaines capitalizes:
Gaines went on to produce career-best sack numbers this past season. But there’s more.
Rookie Ernest Jones snatched a sack in the Super Bowl — by going up A.D’s side:
A’Shawn Robinson put together career-highs on his end in total tackles (67) opposite of Donald. He also stopped a play in its track that was heading towards Donald in the Super Bowl.
And he completes the sack that was accompanied by pressure from Donald.
Lastly, even newcomer Von Miller rubbed off on Donald’s presence: Snatching 9 sacks in the last eight games with the Rams including two to win the title.
As Farr pointed out, the “A.D. effect” is real in the league. And isn’t discussed much as it should be.