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Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald named AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year

The Los Angeles Rams’ unanimous All-Pro added the 2020 top defensive player honor to his wins in 2017 and 2018.

Aaron Donald has become such a dominant defensive tackle that he’s joined elite company in winning his third Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The Los Angeles Rams’ unanimous All-Pro added the 2020 top defensive player honor to his wins in 2017 and 2018. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (1981, ’82, 86) and Houston edge rusher J.J. Watt (2012, ’14, 15) have earned the award three times.

“You just named two great defensive players,” he said, “so any time your name is mentioned with greats, you will be honored -- especially there’s only a few that have accomplished that. To be the third to do it that is truly a blessing. It shows the body of work that I have; anytime your hard work is rewarded you are going to be happy about that. It is just a blessing.”

Credit: AP
Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald warms-up before an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

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Statistics don’t define Donald, who often deals with double-teams — and sometimes more — because of how disruptive he is. Yet he remains disruptive, and he had 45 tackles, 13 1-2 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and dozens of sleepless nights suffered by opponents.

That drew 27 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Donald got seven more than J.J. Watt’s younger brother, All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh. The other three votes went to Dolphins All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard, the league’s interceptions leader.

At age 29, Donald could have a few more such awards ahead of him.

“From stopping the run to rushing the passer to just trying to dominate, I think I am a rounded player,” he said. “I feel I can do everything. No matter the size of the person, as long as you can play at high level and be productive, that is all that matters.

“I will always say my overall game, my mindset is always trying to find ways to get better, stay consistent from stopping the run and rushing the passer. When you make a name for yourself it just gets 10 times harder. So I got to always find ways to improve as a rounded football player, and that’s what I will continue to do.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.d