He is the best defensive player in football —- still. Maybe the best player, period.
And the Detroit Lions are well aware of how hard it will be to stop him.
“Aaron Donald, they just move him to so many different places,” Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Thursday. “He is not a stationary target, so our protection system is going to have to be very sound this week, and we cannot let him wreck the game, because he can wreck the game.”
Lynn said the Lions’ protection plans for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams start with double-teaming Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who is on pace for his fifth straight double-digit sack season.
A BAD SIGN FROM LAST WEEK: Lions OC Anthony Lynn: Offense did ‘not a damn thing’ well vs. Bengals
“There’s going to come some times when we are going to be one-on-one with him and we’ve got to get the job done,” Lynn said. “But you want to put four hands on him as much as possible.”
Donald has dominated the NFL since entering the league as the 13th pick of the 2014 draft, famously going three spots after the Lions took tight end Eric Ebron.
Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, was an All-Pro by his second season and was recognized as the league’s best defensive player for the first time in 2017.
He has a non-stop motor and plays with great leverage because of his size (6 feet 1), but his former defensive linemate with the Rams, Michael Brockers, said that does not begin to explain Donald’s greatness.
“He’s transitioned my career, just watching a guy like that,” Brockers said. “(To) have all the accolades he has and to still work like he’s an undrafted free agent. He still has to work like he has no accolades, he’s a nobody. He works so hard. He’s in the film room more than anybody I know, he’s in the weight room more than anybody I know. And to see that and then to have that drive, cause that drives me now. It’s still, every day I’m like, ‘Oh, man, A.D. would be getting extra reps here.’ … And that drives me and some of the young guys see that from me and they want to do it.”
Evan Brown, who will make his third straight start at center Sunday, called Donald “clearly the best defensive lineman in our league right now and probably, in my opinion, the best player in our league.”
Lynn, who got to know Donald the past few years when both were in Los Angeles, agrees.
“He does some of the things that are very unsound for a defensive lineman, but he makes plays doing it,” said Lynn, the former head coach of the L.A. Chargers. “So he catches you off guard, an element of surprise with some of his stuff. But he just – and he wants to be the best in the league. I got a chance to know him a little bit being in L.A. with him. He’s just an unbelievable human being and he wants to be the best in the league. And right now, I believe he is.”
Tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee), fullback Jason Cabinda (hip) and defensive end Nick Williams (knee) returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Taylor Decker (finger) missed his third consecutive practice dating back to last week.