Aaron Donald is synonymous with the number he wears on his jersey: 99.
That’s also the number of sacks the Rams’ star defense tackle has amassed since joining the NFL in 2014.
On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Donald could enter the 100 club.
“Any time you achieve something, it’s a great honor,” Donald said Thursday. “But obviously I’m just out there playing. I don’t think about it, just play the game and try to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
Donald, 31, started the season with 98 sacks. He had one in the Rams’ embarrassing season-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.
It was “a humbling experience,” Donald said of the loss, echoing coach Sean McVay.
The Rams are desperate to put it behind when they play a Falcons team that blew a 16-point lead in a 27-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter.
“Guys are locked up,” Donald said. “I only spoke to a few of the veterans. … I know where all thoughts are.
“So, I think we’re in a good place.”
The 6-foot-1, 280-pound Donald continues to climb the NFL career sack list, earning a place in the Hall of Fame as perhaps the most prolific home decorator in pro football history.
Donald, the 13th pick in the 2014 draft, is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He is a seven-time All-Pro and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his eight NFL seasons.
“Aaron is the greatest football player that probably most of us know,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said, adding, “We’re just lucky to be able to see it.”
The NFL didn’t make sacks an official statistic until 1982. Former Buffalo defenseman Bruce Smith is the all-time greatest player at 200. Donald is ranked 40th on a list almost entirely dominated by defenders and full-backs.
Donald is ranked 62nd according to Profootballreference.com’s tally, which has tabulated sacks since 1960 and includes Rams legends like Deacon Jones (173½ sacks) and Jack Youngblood (151½) in the top six.
Von Miller (117½), Chandler Jones (107½), Cameron Jordan (107), Justin Houston (103), JJ Watt (102) and Robert Quinn (101) are active players with 100 sacks or more. All are defensive ends or linebackers.
Donald amassed more than a fifth of his sacks in a single season. In 2018 he produced 20½, most by an interior designer. The Rams reached Super Bowl LIII where they lost to the New England Patriots.
Last season Donald had 12½ sacks. He had two in the Rams’ 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI – taking his postseason career to six – and earned the win by pushing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into a desperation pass that was incomplete stayed.
After Donald indicated his retirement, the Rams granted him a three-year, $95 million extension that includes $65 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com. He is the highest paid non-quarterback in NFL history.
Donald grew up in Pittsburgh watching the Steelers and outstanding defensive players.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu were among the Steelers players he was chasing, along with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
“Just get attached to these guys,” Donald said.
Rams defensive tackle Greg Gaines is amazed at Donald and that he’s close to his 100th sack.
“When you rush in, you don’t have as much space as it’s like you always have someone on your right or left,” Gaines said. “So getting 100 sacks from a back office worker has to be at the top of football feats.”
Linebacker Leonard Floyd (knee), receiver Van Jefferson (knee), center Brian Allen (knee) and long snapper Matthew Orzech (calf) were not training, according to the Rams injury report. Offensive tackle Joe Noteboom (knee) was limited.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-09-15/rams-aaron-donalds-100-sacks-history Inside (lineman) story: Aaron Donald’s 100th sack phenomenon