Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Winner: Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams (4 votes)
We're in the midst of something truly special in the National Football League.
Led by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, we've seen a number of generational talents enter the league on defense in recent years. The only problem is, it's hard to call them generational when they enter the league in bunches.
Just last year there was Oakland Raiders edge-rusher Khalil Mack. After spending his rookie season as an outside linebacker, Mack made the switch to defensive end in 2015.
Rough transition? If by rough you mean he entered the season's final week leading the NFL in sacks, then yeah. A real bear it was.
Then there's St. Louis defensive tackle Aaron Donald. All he's done in his two NFL seasons is emerge as a disruptive force in the middle and the best 3-technique in the league.
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reported, teammate Chris Long went one further, calling Donald the NFL's best defensive player period:
I think the case can be made that he’s the best defensive football player in the NFL. There’s going to be some people who are going to tell you otherwise but you watch the film, it’s not just about the stats, it’s about destroying like every play, seven out of 10 plays, he’s doing something to just mess the whole thing up. And he’s just on a constant basis making people look silly.
I could go on for a while on why I think that. But I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to put him in that conversation. I know it’s kind of off limits right now to say anybody is better than J.J., but I think he’s in that conversation.
Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis agrees:
He’s disruptive nearly every play. Everyone wants to look at just his stats a lot of times, but if you watch the tape, there’s so many QB hits that he’s a part of on plays that are out routes and screens, and if he doesn’t make a [tackle for loss], he’s making the running back avoid what he wants to do and double back and somebody else is getting it. So I think so. If I had a vote, which obviously I don’t, but if I did, he would have my vote.
The folks at Pro Football Focus are on board as well. Donald isn't just the highest-rated tackle this year. He's the highest-rated player at any position.
And he's on pace to become their highest-rated player at any position ever.
Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders (2 votes), J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (1 vote), Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals (1 vote)
Midseason winner: Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers (3 votes)
Preseason winner: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (4 votes)