Watch Out Mean Joe Greene, Aaron Donald is Passing You By

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One of the most difficult things to do in sports is to rank players from different eras.  However, everyone loves to do it.  They want to know who is the “G.O.A.T” in every sport, every position, every team, etc. 

Is Michael Jordan better than LeBron James?  Are Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin better than Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky because of the era each played in?  Is Big Ben better than Terry Bradshaw even though Bradshaw has double the rings?

They are questions that have no real right or wrong answer, but it is the most common trope in sports talk to try and compare these types of players and eras.  There are just too many differences given sports eras that these types of comparison are always difficult to make unless one player exclusively played against another. 

Even in today’s game where T.J. Watt plays against Myles Garrett, there are those that argue Garrett is a better defender.  This is obviously ridiculous and Pro Football Focus says that stuff solely for click bait, but the statements are indeed made.

Pittsburgh Steelers legend, Mean Joe Greene, is seen by many as the greatest defensive tackle of all-time.  However, the era he played in was exponentially more favorable to defenders than the NFL is today.  Those two things are true.  My subjective opinion is that Aaron Donald has now officially cemented himself as the greatest defensive tackle, and defensive player, of all-time.

In 8 seasons, Aaron Donald has done nothing but dominate the NFL.  In his rookie season he won Defensive Rookie of the Year and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.  Since then, he has collected seven additional Pro Bowl nominations, seven First-Team All-Pro honors, and eight NFC defensive player of the week awards.  Only one season has Donald not received First Team All-Pro honors and that was his rookie year.  He has been nominated for the Pro Bowl every single one of his seasons played in the NFL.

Donald has also won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in nearly half of his seasons played with three awards.  He probably should win it every year, but the voters most likely recognize that wouldn’t be embraced well by the fans of other teams.  Plus, when guys like T.J. Watt have standout years, they should be rewarded, like this season.  That award is one of the few ways defensive players can be recognized so it is necessary for the award to rotate. 

Also, in addition to 98 sacks and 150 tackles for loss in just 123 games started, Donald is visually the best player on the field.  Stats are easy to rattle off, and Donald’s sure are impressive, but the eye-ball test is stronger than numbers on a screen. 

Donald is the most disruptive player I have ever watched and you have ever watched.  Offenses continue to exclusively game plan around him and they only hope to contain him on half of the offensive snaps.  He also continues to be this dominant in an era of football where offensive players continue to receive preferential treatment. 

In a time when defenders can’t breathe on the quarterback, Donald continues to dominate regardless of the constant rule-making trying to handcuff him.  This is what gives him the edge over guys like Mean Joe Greene.  Joe Greene was absolutely the most dominant defender of his era and for many years after that.  However, defenders were a lot more free to use any means necessary to get to and take down the quarterback during his career.  Nowadays, Greene would be flagged on virtually every play.

Last night, Donald was one of the main storylines of the Super Bowl win for the Los Angeles Rams.  Play after play, he was disrupting whatever Joe Burrow and the Bengals tried to get going on offense.  When the Bengals could not lend help to their guard and double team Donald, he would break through and at least get a hit on Burrow. 

On the Bengals last offensive drive, when they were in desperate need of a field goal, Donald made a key tackle on 3rd and 1 to stop the ball carrier, Samaje Perine, from reaching the line to gain.  Then on 4th down, Donald provided the pressure and takedown of Burrow that led to the game clinching incomplete pass and a turnover on downs.  Both plays clinched the Lombardi trophy for the Rams and just added to Donald’s Hall of Fame resume. 

There was speculation after the game that Donald may retire from the NFL.  After eight grueling seasons, one Super Bowl championship and another Super Bowl appearance, he may recognize the toll football will have on his brain and body.  Therefore, last night’s game may have been the last we see of the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.  If it was, in just eight seasons he built a Hall of Fame resume and will be voted in first-ballot.  You can count that.