Los Angeles Rams: No Aaron Donald? Not A Problem, According to the Latest Rankings

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus’ latest defensive line ranking stuck the Los Angeles Rams in 23rd place. At first glance, it is justified. The team’s defensive line is made up of perhaps three rookies and two second-year players. And, most importantly, NO Aaron Donald.

The retirement of the future Hall of Famer sent Rams-dom into a tailspin. Donald was such an incredible force at defensive tackle for the Rams over the last 10 seasons, it is hard to imagine what this defense will look like in his absence. The spectrum of responses to it ranges from ‘an irreplaceable loss that can only be offset by multiple players’ to a seismic ‘this changes everything’ shock wave.

Los Angeles Rams Defensive Line With And Without Aaron Donald

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
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PFF Ranked Rams 22nd in 2023

But a look back at how PFF felt about the 2023 Rams defensive line reveals that they never liked the Rams defensive line, even WITH Donald. They ranked them just one spot ahead in that year, 22nd.

“If not for Aaron Donald, the Rams could very well have ended up outside the top 30 on this list, but even the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s presence could not lead to a better ranking for this unit.

Donald earned a PFF overall grade over 90.0 for the ninth time in his nine-year career this past season, but he was dethroned as the highest-graded interior defender after seven seasons at the top.

Outside of him, the Rams do not have much to offer on the defensive line, but they did draft five defensive linemen this year, so they’ll be hoping that at least one or two can step up in 2023.”

PFF’s view of the 2024 Rams DL

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is what they had to write about this year’s DL squad;

“The Rams will have to contend without Aaron Donald for the first time in a decade, and beyond the obvious impact that he brought with his production, they will experience life without every offense they face specifically game-planning for him every week. What does that look like when the attention usually reserved for Donald is shared around the rest of the line more equitably?

Kobie Turner was phenomenal in the second half of his rookie season, and the Rams are now absolutely loaded with youth up front, but that means inexperience and uncertainty, too.”

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the Donald of it all, PFF disregards the potential upside rookies can bring. While it is hard to argue that youth brings inexperience and uncertainty, a rookie drafted at any point can become a positive starter in year one.

Case in point, Kobie Turner. In their 2023 write-up, he isn’t mentioned once. But in 2024’s ranking, they admit that a portion of his first season was ‘phenomenal.’

This year’s makes the same assumption despite the Rams using their first-round and second-round pick to address the defensive line. Will both Jared Verse and Braden Fiske be phenomenal? Unlikely, but it should be kept in consideration. Variance of outcomes exist with all rookies, but these rankings seem to assume the worst and leave it at that.

Losing Donald has to have more of an effect on this defensive line than one spot. Either last year’s class or Donald’s effect is severely underrated. Possibly both.