The St. Louis Rams sit at 6-8 and will just be playing for pride the rest of the way, looking to finish the season at .500.
The team has played well for head coach Jeff Fisher this season, especially when you consider the Rams have had to do it with a second- or third-string quarterback all year, along with a slew of young players.
Because of that, the future is bright for this team.
Though the Rams won't be making a trip to the playoffs this year, the 2014 season can't be considered a total waste. They gained a bunch of big-game experience by getting wins over both teams that appeared in the last Super Bowl, Seattle and Denver.
The Rams have done plenty of good this season, including putting together one of the league's most formidable defenses.
The team has some emerging young offensive weapons including Tre Mason, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. But the 2014 team MVP has to come from the defensive side of the ball, right?
Alec Ogletree has come alive this season, adding to a solid rookie year in 2013. He has 93 tackles on the year but also has shown he can play pass coverage, coming up with two interceptions.
Robert Quinn has rebounded from a slow start and has 10.5 sacks on the year—the third season in a row he's had at least 10 sacks.
The secondary also has some good players including Janoris Jenkins, E.J. Gaines and T.J. McDonald.
But is it possible that a rookie is the team's most valuable player? Yes, it is. Aaron Donald, selected with the 13th pick of this year's draft, has been the most impressive player on the team.
When the Rams chose Donald, they hoped they were getting a player who would be a force in the middle of their defense for years to come. It appears they have found that in the 6'1", 285-pound defensive tackle.
Donald has come up with eight sacks on the season. But he has also been important in the areas that don't appear in the box score and don't show up as statistics.
He is so fast off the snap that it's incredible. He has quick recognition of blocking schemes for a rookie as well, and it seems that he is constantly in the backfield of the opposition.
Quinn didn't have a single sack in the team's first five games this year. The main reason he has 10.5 in the last nine games is largely due to the play of Donald.
Donald is forcing teams to move extra protection toward the interior of the line, which allows Quinn to see more one-on-one blocking.
But Donald's eight sacks are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, only two defensive tackles in the league have more than that—Marcell Dareus and Gerald McCoy. That's good company.
But if you want to know how good Donald has really been, and you aren't able to go back and watch film, just compare his numbers to those of the players who made the Pro Bowl at the defensive tackle position for the NFC last season. That says it all right there.
|Aaron Donald vs. 2013 NFC Pro Bowl Defensive Tackles|
|Player||Snaps||Sacks||QB hurries||Stops||Run Defense Grade||Pass Defense Grade|
|Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay||688||8.5||27||22||0.1||36.2|
|Ndamukong Suh, Detroit||768||6.5||32||30||19.6||12.9|
|Henry Melton, Dallas||392||5||18||11||-9.0||15.4|
|Justin Smith, San Francisco||634||5||19||20||13.7||4.2|
|Aaron Donald, St. Louis||626||8||25||33||18.2||12.6|
|Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required)|
Not only should Donald be considered for a spot in the Pro Bowl this year, but he should have an excellent chance to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
When the Rams are healthy and can put Quinn and Chris Long on either side of Donald, the team will arguably have the best defensive line in the league. But Donald is the key. His presence in the middle will allow those guys to rush the passer and get there at a much higher rate.
The Rams have played great defense this season, and a number of players could be considered for the team MVP this year. But this wasn't a difficult choice. The impact Donald has made, even though he's a rookie, makes it too hard to pass on him.
Fans of the Rams know how good this guy is. It won't be long before many other fans do as well.