Aaron Donald and Micah Parsons are two of the best defensive players in the NFL.
According to Caesars Sportsbook, Parsons (+180) went into Week 5 with the best shot at Defensive Player of the Year, and Donald (+1500) finished fourth.
They play different positions — Donald is a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, Parsons a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys — but they’re always the first guy noticed by opposing coaches when they dissect the tape.
“You get off the bus, you better look around because that’s the type of player [Donald] is. He’s from Pittsburgh, so what do you expect?” said Cowboys coach and Pittsburgh native Mike McCarthy. “Yeah, he’s a spoilsport. We recognize that.”
“The versatility, the explosiveness, the complete player,” said Rams coach Sean McVay when asked what makes him stand out about Parsons in the film. “[He] can play the line of scrimmage, off the line of scrimmage. I find [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Coach [Dan] Quinn does a great job of somehow emphasizing his skills, though [he’s] a playmaker in its purest form. He’s a guy who can affect the game in a lot of different ways, and they already have a handful of guys like that. He’s something special.”
How well the Cowboys handle Donald and the Rams handle Parsons when they play each other for the first time Sunday at Sofi Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) could determine who wins a game that could mean a lot later in the season when it comes to NFC playoff pursuits.
Here’s a look at what makes Donald and Parsons so special:
What they have done
pastor: Last season, he became the Cowboys’ first rookie defenseman to earn first-team All-Pro honors and set a franchise record for sacks in a season by a rookie (13). He added 42 quarterback rushes, 20 tackles for loss and 64 tackles. As a result, he became the first Dallas defenseman to win the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year title and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting (Donald finished third).
So far this season, Parsons has 14 tackles (13 solo) and four sacks along with a 33% pass rush win rate, six tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits. With a multi-sack game on Sunday, Parsons would become the third player with at least six multi-sack attempts in 21 career games. Aldon Smith had seven and Joey Bosa had six.
donald: He has won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, the most ever with Lawrence Taylor and JJ Watt. He has 100 sacks in 130 career games. Last season, Donald was the only player aside from Taylor to be named multiple Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, made a five-time first-team All-Pro, and won a Super Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Donald has 19.5 sacks since the start of last season, which is the most in the NFL. Parsons is sixth in that range with a 16.0.
What makes her great
pastor: He can play anywhere, although he’s spent more time defensively than as a linebacker this season (from 188 to 52). That has allowed Quinn to create inconsistencies in her pass rush, take Parsons down the weak link of the offensive line or towards a tight end, or run back.
After four games, Parsons is second in the league in pass rush win rate. Depending on the strength of the opponent, the Cowboys can use Parsons as a linebacker to slow the run or as a pass rusher to get behind the quarterback. He even put himself in the slot last week against the Washington Commanders, covering receiver Terry McLaurin.
donald: He “can do almost anything you ask him to do on the field,” said Rams defense coordinator Raheem Morris. McVay said one thing he doesn’t think enough people are pointing out is that Donald has still maintained his production “despite the attention he’s got.”
From 2017 to 2021, Donald was on the doubles team 1,586 times, according to ESPN metrics backed by NFL Next Gen Stats. Despite this, he had the highest pass rush win rate among central defenders in that span.
“To still be able to produce is the most amazing thing for me,” McVay said, noting that he believes part of the reason Donald is so great is because “no one demands more from Aaron Donald than he does to himself .
“This, to me, is one of those separators where you’re wired that way by nature. I don’t think you can teach or train that. I think you either are or you aren’t, and Aaron certainly is.”
“Pennsylvania is the real deal,” Parsons said.
pastor: Growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he excelled at almost everything he did. Parsons played on the Central Dauphin High School varsity football team as a freshman. As a senior at Harrisburg High School, he played running back and defensive end. Parsons rushed for 1,239 yards and 27 touchdowns and had 99 receiving yards with two touchdowns. He also had 17.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks and one interception.
A true freshman at Penn State, he led defense in tackles and did the same as a sophomore before dropping out of his senior season due to COVID-19.
Aaron Donald talks about his motivation to come back after winning a Super Bowl instead of retiring.
donald: He grew up in Pittsburgh, less than 30 minutes from his college at the University of Pittsburgh.
Donald attended Penn Hills High School, where he was selected to the first-team All-State in his junior and senior seasons. In his final season, he had 63 tackles, including 15 for losses and 11 sacks. Donald played four seasons with Pitt and finished his collegiate career with 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss.
Donald and Parsons also share a wrestling background.
“I think wrestling is a great indicator of help in your career; understanding leverage, balance, control and body control,” said Parsons. “To this day, this offseason, I still go wrestling just to keep the muscle memory and hands working.”
What opponents say about them
Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor on Parsons: “Micah Parsons will be in the running for one of the best, if not the best, pass rushers, just how they can move him. The way he can take advantage and bend. He’s a real problem and they’ve got some really good players behind him too.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Todd Bowles on Parsons: “He definitely qualifies as a spoilsport. They use him inside. They use him outside. He can rush the passer from anywhere. He can blow up runs. He can mark. He does a lot of things; he causes a lot. ” problems. They cause a lot of mismatches for him. They put him in positions where he’s often behind, but he can also beat linemen. He’s a real spoilsport.
Cowboys All-Pro right guard Zack Martin on Donald: “People ask me that all the time. He’s good at everything. He is extremely powerful. He is fast. He obviously has natural leverage. He’s a player. I mean, he’s just good at everything.”
Buffalo Bills Coach Sean McDermott on Donald: “He’s obviously the best defensive player in the NFL. You turn on the tape, and for the first three games you don’t have to go any further. You see him affecting the game and disrupting the offensive rhythm and you’re just trying to get a game and he blasts it.”
Atlanta Falcons Coach Arthur Smith on Donald: “He’s a great player. Probably one of the most dominant players in this league in the last ten years. We have a lot of respect for him but there’s a challenge every week and it’s fun.”
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on Parsons: “Micah is a bloody young player. He does a great job in all the roles they give him, a great engine. He has high end skills, athletic ability, everything. Really, really well rounded, good footballer.”
Donald on Parsons
“He’s a good footballer. He makes a lot of games. He’s a productive guy. Showed it last year. Had some success earlier this year. So he’s a good footballer.”
Parsons about Donald
“My love for Aaron Donald is through the roof. I mean, he set the tone for the defense. I mean, he’s dominated this league since his rookie year. I mean, he’s been an All-Pro since his rookie year. I mean, he’s kind of the standard for how you want to be when you get into the league.
“I hope I can continue to follow in his footsteps and reach his level of greatness and success. I’m a big fan of his. I hope I can get his jersey in my man cave one day. I put him up there with the level of respect I have for those quarterbacks. Like Aaron Donald is such a guy. I know he’s almost out of his league and we need to enjoy him while he’s here.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34745650/why-los-angeles-rams-aaron-donald-dallas-cowboys-micah-parsons-indisputably-elite Why Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald and Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons are indisputably elite