Sports

An Inside Job: How Aaron Donald Bull-Rushed His Way to 100 Sacks

At age 31, Aaron Donald has won enough accolades to be mentioned among the pro football greats. Donald, a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, has been the N.F.L. defensive player of the year three times — tied for the most with Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt. Donald has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his eight N.F.L. seasons so far. And last season, he racked up two sacks as the Rams won the Super Bowl, beating the Cincinnati Bengals.

On Sunday, he added to his Hall of Fame résumé when he got around Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Will Hernandez and tripped Kyler Murray as the quarterback was escaping the pocket, collecting his 100th career regular-season sack.

It places Donald among the game’s elite, and not just because of the volume. Donald is one of just three interior defensive tackles to reach 100 sacks since 1960, according to position listings by Pro Football Reference, along with the Hall of Fame inductees Alan Page and Alex Karras. Having played on the defensive line’s interior his whole career, Donald faces double teams and other exotic protections rather than the one-on-one matchups that edge rushers (think outside linebackers and defensive ends) see on the way to reaching the quarterback.

But even from the inside, Donald has racked up sacks at an uncanny pace. Since he entered the league in 2014, no player has had more sacks. He is one of 40 players to have reached 100 since the N.F.L. began officially recording sacks in the 1982 season, and only six other active players — Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan, Justin Houston, J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn — have hit that milestone.

By reaching 100 sacks in his 130th regular-season game, Donald was the 10th fastest of his peers, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

“Any time you accomplish anything, it’s a great honor,” Donald said this season. “But obviously I’m just out here playing — not thinking about it, just playing a game.”

How long he keeps playing will decide just where Donald falls on the list of career sack leaders. He flirted with retirement after the Rams won the Super Bowl in February, but the team restructured the final three years of his contract, which includes $95 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid nonquarterback in N.F.L. history.

That move means Donald’s tenure of terrorizing quarterbacks could end after the 2024 season; at his current pace, he could reach 137 sacks by the end of that contract. If he were to keep playing into his late 30s or even early 40s — and was able to keep up his impressive rate of 0.77 sacks per game — he could challenge the career record, held by the Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, who secured 200 sacks in 19 seasons.

“Aaron is probably the greatest football player that probably most of us have been around,” said Raheem Morris, the Rams’ defensive coordinator. “You’re carrying his gold jacket right now, and we’re just lucky enough to be able to watch it.”

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