Updated: Oct 7, 2021
After Golden State won the basketball championship in 2014-15, it opened up 16-0 the following season. Right then, I wrote an article entitled “Don’t Buy Into the Warriors Hype…Yet.”
Of course, I took an immense amount of heat for that. But I didn’t write the piece to stir things up; I wrote it because it was what I truly believed (feel free to refer back to the article for the specific reasons why). Later that season, admittedly, I took a victory lap when Kyrie Irving was healthy and Cleveland knocked off Steph Curry’s supposedly unbeatable team.
Point being, when I recently tweeted that Aaron Donald is one of the most overrated players of all time, that wasn’t bait. I truly believe that. And I am more than happy to explain all of the reasons why, now:
Part I: Defining “Overrated” in Relation to Aaron Donald
I should probably just get this right out in the open, right?
Aaron Donald is a beast. I don’t doubt his talent, and I know he’s been one of the best defensive players in the league for quite some time.
However, let’s take stock of some of his recent rankings:
On June 28, 2021, Pro Football Focus ranked Aaron Donald as the No. 1 overall player in football.
On August 30, 2021, ESPN ranked Donald as the second-best player in the league.
Also recently, the players themselves voted Donald the second-best player in the game.
Remember that part in A Few Good Men when Cuba Gooding Jr. takes the stand? Because his testimony is going to be repetitive, Tom Cruise asks Kevin Bacon to “stipulate” that all similar testimonies be considered the same in advance.
Well, that’s what I’m gonna do here. As opposed to pulling up more such articles, and going back in time, I’m asking you to stipulate that Aaron Donald is widely considered either the best or second-best player in football, and has been for a while. Hopefully you will accept that stipulation.
With that said, “overrated” means he’s NOT one of the top, top players in the game, to me. Just giving a sense of the context, here.
Part II: In Football, All Positions are NOT Created Equal
Since the initial tweet was my opinion, naturally this article continues with my opinion. And this is one of those opinions:
You CANNOT rank star defensive linemen on the same par with star quarterbacks. I am sorry… in my opinion that is totally illogical.
Last season, Kansas City was dead last in defense; they allowed an astounding 415.8 yards of offense per game. Dead. Last. And yet, they went to the Super Bowl because they have Patrick Mahomes.
Also last season, Tampa Bay won it all. That happened because they have Tom Brady. The previous year – with many of the exact same players, mind you – Tampa went 7-9.
One last quick one, same player. In Brady’s last year in New England, they went 12-4. Take him away? And they go 7-9. So…one 7-9 team becomes Super Bowl champs, and the other “illustrious franchise” magically drops down to 7-9?
Come on. Elite quarterbacks are in a league of their own. There’s no chance in the world I’m ranking Donald over Mahomes, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray or Justin Herbert. If you wanna sell me Matthew Stafford, I’ll sit down and listen to ya, too.
You get my point in this section. To me, the context of the position must be considered.
(By the way, here’s a list from recent years where I ranked Donald the 11th-best player in the game.)
Part III: Shouldn’t One of the Best of the Best Directly Correlate to Championships?
Quarterbacks can correlate directly to championships. We might actually be able to say the same of head coaches. But Aaron Donald, an interior defensive lineman?
Seven full seasons in the pros, zero championships. Now, I’m a reasonable guy, I’m not expecting Donald to go out there and singlehandedly win a championship; but then again, everyone is saying he’s either the best or second-best player in the world. Under that heading, should we reasonably expect a correlation to titles?
Brady (7 titles), Mahomes (1), Wilson (1), Rodgers (1) and even 2 for Ben Roethlisberger. Donald has time to catch up – though LA is currently 27th in defense, thus I’m wondering about possible decline – so I’m open to personal ranking changes in the future. For now, I certainly don’t see him as one of the best players in the history of the game.
Part IV: What Separates Donald from the Other Best Defensive Players?
Come on, we can all be honest here, right? How many of us are really staying up late at night studying game film of individual defensive players?
So when everyone says “Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the world,” well, I’m sorry…but a lot of that is pure GroupThink.
Let’s go back to the Pro Football Focus Top 50. These guys and gals are up all night studying this stuff. Here are the other defensive players from their list: Khalil Mack, Bobby Wagner, T.J. Watt, Jaire Alexander, Jalen Ramsey, Chris Jones, Fred Warner, Joey Bosa, Justin Simmons, Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, Marlon Humphrey, Cameron Heyward, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Bryce Callahan, John Johnson III, Grady Jarrett, James Bradberry, Marcus Williams and Lavonte David.
Doesn’t that list already muddy the waters, comparatively? We can compare Donald two different ways, here.
For his career, in all honesty, I put him in the same category with Mack, Wagner, Ramsey, Heyward, Smith and David. Relative to their positions, those are some of the elite – like Donald – and they’ve been extremely consistent, as well.
Currently, I don’t think he’s any better than Garrett, Watt, both Bosas or Humphrey. Alexander is hurt, but he would be right there, too. Simmons isn’t a “name” player but he’s just as good. Big fella Jones is right there in the mix.
Now, let me add some names of my own: Jamal Adams, Tyrann Mathieu, Chase Young, Harold Landry III, Trevon Diggs, Fletcher Cox, Maxx Crosby, Quinnen Williams, Von Miller, Calais Campbell, Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, Donte Jackson, Chandler Jones, Budda Baker, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, Derwin James, Devin White, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Xavien Howard, Tre’Davious White, Joe Haden, Casey Heyward, Micah Hyde, Danielle Hunter and Richard Sherman.
We’re so obsessed with fantasy football these days, and DFS, that we are watching the ball all the time. As you can see, when you really sit down and look things over, you realize the league is LOADED with individual defensive talent. Now consider the following in relation to my list:
For his career, I’d put Donald in the same category with Miller, Campbell, Jones, Gilmore and Sherman. Cox, Jordan and Haden have had outstanding careers, as well. So now, for his career, I have Donald in a category with at least 10-12 other active defensive players.
Currently, I don’t think he’s any better than Crosby, Leonard, Baker, James or Devin White. Diggs and Tre’Davious have my attention, too. So now, actively, I have Donald in a category with at least 10-12 other defensive players.
You see what I’m getting at? Devin White has a ring. Lavonte David has a ring. (And when I say “has a ring,” it could mean multiple.) Chris Jones has a ring. Mathieu has a ring. Gilmore has a ring. Cox has a ring. Von Miller has a ring. Chandler Jones has a ring. Wagner has a ring. Sherman has a ring.
The list goes on. You get the idea.
Donald is a great defensive player; but so are all these other guys. And they have rings. In my opinion, the main reason Donald is considered (arguably) the best overall player in the game is because every media outlet writes that. And every TV talking head says it. And every social media account echoes it.
What if everyone just decided to focus on CB instead of interior line? Everyone might say Ramsey (or Humphrey) is the best defensive player in the game.
What if everyone just decided to focus on Safety? Simmons, Smith, Baker or James might be considered the best defensive player in the game.
Edge? Mack, Watt, Bosa, Bosa or Garrett might be considered the best defensive player in the game.
Linebacker? Wagner, David or Leonard might be considered the best defensive player in the game.
And this is where someone might say, yeah, but Donald is so much better than everyone else at his position. And that’s just not true. Chris Jones, Heyward, Jarrett and Cox are right there with him. Everyone just automatically says that they aren’t. But we can’t accept everything at face value like that.
Part V: Conclusion – Putting Donald in Tier Context
Very simply, I look at players this way:
Good Players/Sometime Pro Bowlers
In conclusion, Donald falls in category 2 for me. I personally consider him a “consistent star,” not an all-time great.
Agree with John Frascella? Disagree. Let him know on Twitter @LegendSports7
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