He may not be among the way-too-early MVP candidates, but he continues to be regarded by many as the single best player in the NFL.
He’s Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He returns to NBC’s Sunday Night Football this week to face the Browns.
“He is the best player in the league,” Browns guard Joel Bitonio told reporters on Wednesday regarding Donald. “He is strong against the run. He is strong against the pass. He does everything well. People say coming out he was undersized slightly and things like that, but he has all of the power you need to play that position and all of the leverage you need. He has speed. When you think you are going to try to shut off the speed move, he can counter with his power move.
“That first step has people panic, and when people panic, you overset him or move too quick and he moves inside. He kind of plays everywhere. He is on the left, he is on the right, he lines up outside sometimes and they move him around. You can kind of tell with their defense he is definitely a focal point for a lot of teams so sometimes he does not have the stats. I think he only has two tackles this year maybe, but if you watch the film, he is making plays.”
Chris Simms would put those outcomes in the “eff up the play” statistical category. Donald likely leads the league on that front.
“You have to trust in your technique, and hopefully, watch enough film and understand the situation,” Bitonio said regarding the strategy for avoiding panic in response to Donald’s first step. “He is good enough where if you take one bad step . . . . If you are perfect in your technique, you have a chance, and you take that bad step and lean or do something wrong, that is when he takes advantage of it.”
Browns running back Nick Chubb was more basic in his description of Donald.
“He is a monster,” Chubb said. “He is a beast. Every play he is going full speed, 100 miles per hour. He is hard to stop. We have to do our best every play to make sure we have someone on him and someone to try and slow him down.”
Indeed they do. Because Donald alone can keep the Browns from getting into an offensive rhythm.
“He is an unbelievable player,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “His game speaks for itself. He works very hard at what he does. That is why he is one of the best in the game right now. He creates a monster itself within his game, but then also that creates opportunities for other guys to get one-on-one matchups. Not just is his game a game-changer, but it allows for those other guys to play free.”
That’s the challenge the Browns will face as they play their second prime-time game in six days against an opponent far more potent than the Jets.