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Rams Defensive Aaron Donald Wins Rookie of the Year

By Nick Wagoner, ESPN.com

The St. Louis Rams at the beginning of 2000s had a knack for drafting defensive tackles in the first round, just to see them fail to pan out or never ascend much above the level of average. Several names in St. Louis Rams roster, including Damione Lewis, Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett and Adam Carriker were all first-round selections but only Pickett turned into a good NFL player. That history of misses on first-round defensive tackles was wiped away Saturday night when defensive tackle Aaron Donald added the crown jewel of rookie defensive awards, claiming the “official” Defensive Rookie of the Year award at the NFL Honors Awards show.

Aaron Donald

Donald had already been praised with major awards such as a Pro Bowl trip and the Pro Football Writers of America’s version of the defensive rookie of the year, but Saturday’s trophy is the one that is recognized as the primary honor as voted on by the Associated Press panel of voters.

“It’s a blessing,” Donald said. “It’s huge. It’s something you dream about coming into the NFL. To be able to accomplish it is just amazing.

“I always set my goals high. I wanted to get double digit sacks and things like that but you always have to set high goals so you have something to chase. You have got to have that mindset to stay hungry, stay humble and just continue to work.”

For  Aaron Donald, it was an award well earned as he beat out other top candidates such as Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack and Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley. In the process, Donald becomes the first Ram since linebacker Isiah Robertson in 1971 to win the award and only the second Ram to earn it since it’s inception. Donald proved one of the Rams’ best players, let alone rookies in 2014, with a breakout season that coaches, teammates, media and fans saw coming almost from the moment the team drafted him No. 13 overall.

“I’m thrilled to congratulate Aaron on this tremendous achievement,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a statement. “From the moment he arrived in St. louis last spring, Aaron worked extremely hard to prepare himself for a great rookie season and he certainly delivered. His production on the field speaks for itself. As an entire organization, we’re very proud of Aaron and we celebrate with him.”

Donald’s nine sacks led all rookies and represent the most by any first-year player in the past three years. That total was second most on the team behind defensive end Robert Quinn and eclipsed the eight from Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah last year and Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin in 2012. It’s also the sixth most by a rookie defensive tackle since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Those nine sacks were the second most among all defensive tackles in the NFL in 2014, trailing only behind the 10 of Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus graded Donald as the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Donald also had 17 tackles for loss, the most by a rookie defensive lineman in league history.

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