Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

by Donald Parker

Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

Khalil Mack Odell Beckham Jr. Rob Gronkowski RussellWilson Todd Gurley

Aaron Donald Aaron Rodgers Alvin Kamara Antonio Brown DrewBrees J.J. Watt Julio Jones

Tom Brady Von Miller

Gridiron Greats PRO FOO TBA L L’ S BES T PL AY ERS

by Donald Parker


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Further Reading 74 Internet Resources 75 Index 76 Photo Credits 79 Educational Video Links & Author Bio 80

Chapter 1: Greatest Moments 7 Chapter 2: The Road to the Top 21 Chapter 3: On the Field 37 Chapter 4: Words Count 51 Chapter 5: Off the Field 63 Series Glossary of Key Terms 72


Words to Understand: These words with their easy-to-understand definitions will increase the reader’s understanding of the text while building vocabulary skills.

Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Educational Videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments and much more! Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there.

Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis.

Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout this series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.

WORDS TO UNDERSTAND franchise – the right or license granted by an organization to an individual or group to market its products or services in a specific territory resurgence – a rising again into life, activity, or prominence tenacity – the state of being persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired validate – to recognize, establish, or illustrate theworthiness or legitimacy of someone or something


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

Chapter 1

Greatest Moments

AARON DONALD’S NFL CAREER (SO FAR!) The St. Louis Rams thought highly enough of Aaron Donald to select him with their second of two picks in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Donald came out of college, the University of Pittsburgh, as a highly touted edge rusher and run stopper. While at Pittsburgh, he earned all-conference honors three out of the four years he played for the Panthers football team. Donald was also named a consensus All-American in his senior year and Player of the Year for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Donald impressed scouts at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine with his speed, agility, and technique. He possessed decent but not great size for an NFL player at 6 feet, 1 inch (1.85 m) tall and 285 pounds (129.27 kg). Donald’s lack of height was a concern for many teams. A great performance at the combine validated the work of Ram scouts and led the team to select Donald with the 13th pick in the draft.


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

Donald has repaid their faith in his talent by earning a spot on the Pro Bowl team in each of the five NFL seasons he has played. He has been part of the resurgence of the Rams defense and has helped elevate the team, along with QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, to a status as one of the best squads in the NFL. Those teams that passed on Donald in the draft would likely give anything to have a player of his ability anchoring their defenses!

Donald is a tenacious defender. His 97 career tackles for loss (TFLs) rank him 38th all-time on the NFL career list, just two shy of Hall-of-Fame Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis. In 2018 Donald recorded 20.5 quarterback sacks, which is ranked seventh all-time andwas within two sacks of the league’s record of 22.5 sacks set by Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001. Donald has joined the ranks of some of the greatest defensive lineman in both NFL and Rams history. This is a list that includes Hall-of-Famers David “Deacon” Jones (the player for whom the term “quarterback sack” was invented), Merlin Olsen (a member of the Rams’ famous “Fearsome Foursome” defense), and Jack Youngblood, who was Deacon Jones’ replacement and also a member of the Fearsome Foursome defensive unit.

Along with that of teammate RB Todd Gurley, Donald’s dominance has been greatly responsible for recent Rams’ success.

The numbers that Donald has put up as a pass rusher and run stopper have himon pace to be regarded as one of the best, if not the best-ever NFL defensive tackles. The sight of him on the other side of the football has caused some offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to think hard about attempting to run the ball near him. At 6 feet, 1 inch (1.85 m) and 280 pounds (127 kg), Donald may have stopped growing physically, but his game continues to grow to new levels of greatness!


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players



Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

First Regular Season NFL Sack Donald is developing a reputation as one of the most fearsome sack masters in the NFL. He has already recorded 59.5 sacks in his five-year career. Donald ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for most sacks in a player’s first five seasons, behind Derrick Thomas (third), J.J. Watt (second), and Reggie White (first). He got his first NFL sack in his second game as a pro, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 14, 2014. He also recorded three solo tackles, each for negative yards, in helping the Rams defeat the Buccaneers by the score of 19 – 17.

In his second game as a professional football player, September 14, 2014, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Donald recorded his first career sack on a second quarter, third down play that forced the Buccaneers to punt. His three tackles (all for loss) and sack helped the Rams beat the Bucs by the score of 19 – 17 [see 5:37 min. mark].


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

First NFL Playoff Sack Prior to Donald being drafted by St. Louis, the Rams struggled to make it to the playoffs. After the additions from the 2014 draft and a young offensive-minded coach, the Rams began to turn their fortunes around, and by 2017 they were playoff bound. Although the Rams finished 11 – 5 (good for first place in the NFCWest division), they came up short in their wildcardmatchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who beat the Rams 26 – 13. Donald was able to team up with fellow defensive tackle Michael Brockers for a second quarter sack of Atlanta’s QB Matt

Ryan for a seven-yard loss. The shared sack was the first one (0.5 actually!) of what has already been dozens more for the Rams star.

Donald’s constant pressure on the quarterback pays off with a half-credited sack of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in Donald’s first playoff appearance, January 6, 2018 [the sack begins at the 2:57 min. mark].


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

Named 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Donald came out of the draft class in 2014 ready to show the Rams and the NFL the type of player he was (one that earned all-conference and All-American honors in college). His impact as a defensive lineman was immediately apparent to his team. Donald brought a combination of speed and agility along with technique to the game that resulted in nine sacks and 47 tackles, including 18 TFLs in his rookie year. He was a nightmare for the offensive linemen who were tasked with guarding him all season, resulting in the top honor of Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Donald continued his success from college as one of the best defensive lineman in the game by winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award for 2014.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

Named 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2017 was a phenomenal year for Donald. He was named to his fourth NFL Pro Bowl and helped the Los Angeles Rams to a 11 – 5 regular season record and first place in the NFC West. This finished allowed the team to claim its first division title in 14 seasons and first playoff appearance in 13 seasons. Much of the credit for the team’s resurgence rests on the shoulders of Donald. For the season, he forced five fumbles (one of which he recovered), 11 sacks, 41 tackles, and 15 TFLs. Donald’s presence on the field altered play calling and enabled the Rams to return to glory. It also helped himwin his first NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for the 2017 season.

Donald could do nothing wrong as he dominated teams in the 2017 NFL season on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year honors.


Chapter 1: Greatest Moments

NFL Sack Leader Donald is one of only 11 defensive players in NFL history to record 20 or more sacks in an NFL season. That is an impressive stat when considering that the names on this list include Michael Strahan, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, and J.J. Watt (currently of the Houston Texans, Watt did it in two different seasons). Donald finished the 2018 season with 20.5 sacks. This total number of sacks set a position record for defensive tackles, as all of the other 10 players were either linebackers or defensive ends. Donald also established the Rams’ club record for most sacks in a single season.

Performances like his four-sack game against the San Francisco 49ers, October 21, 2018, helped Donald total 20.5 sacks for the NFL sack title.


Gridiron Greats: Pro Football’s Best Players

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