Rams’ Aaron Donald named NFL defensive player of the year for third time

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald smiles and holds up a hand
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald smiles during a playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 9.
(Scott Eklund / Associated Press)

Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald made NFL history Saturday, becoming only the third player to be voted defensive player of the year three times.

Donald was announced as the winner during NFL Honors, held annually the night before the Super Bowl.

Donald, 29, also won the award in 2017 and 2018. He joins Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Houston Texans lineman J.J. Watt as the only three-time winners.


Donald, the 13th pick in the 2014 draft, amassed 13½ sacks this season for a Rams team that finished 10-6 and advanced to the divisional-round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers. Donald was limited during the 32-18 defeat because of a rib injury suffered in a wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks, a game in which he recorded two sacks.

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The 6-foot-1, 280-pound Donald was voted to the All-Pro team for the sixth time in seven NFL seasons. He has 85½ career sacks.

“Anytime you put the body of work in, you have success, you see the certain things you can accomplish just from what you do from working and translating that to a football field,” he said last month after the All-Pro team was announced. “It’s just a blessing.”

Donald won the defensive player of the year award for the third time in four years after helping the Rams defense finish No. 1 in fewest yards and points given up. The Rams were first in passing defense and second in sacks.

Four years ago, Donald had 11 sacks in 14 games for a Rams team that won the NFC West and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

In 2018, after signing a then-record $135-million extension, Donald produced one of the most dominant defensive performances in league history when he amassed 20½ sacks, a record for an interior lineman. Donald helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl LIII, where they lost to the New England Patriots.


In 2019, Donald had 12½ sacks, but the Rams finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time under coach Sean McVay. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was voted defensive player of the year that season.