Skip to main content

NFL Summer Games, interior D-line: Aaron Donald wrecks shop

American football isn't an Olympic sport -- yet. But with the world's best athletes set to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, we thought we'd get in on the fun by holding a medal competition at nine key positions. NFL Media analysts ranked the top three players at each spot, with points assigned accordingly -- three points for each first-place ranking, two for each second-place ranking and one for each third-place ranking. The points were totaled, resulting in final gold-, silver- and bronze-medal finishers. Below, you'll find the results -- and each analyst's individual ballot -- for interior defensive linemen.

The Interior Defensive Line Podium

GOLD MEDAL:Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (41 total points)

SILVER MEDAL:J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (29)

BRONZE MEDAL:Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals (15)

Analyst Ballots

Gil Brandt: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Fletcher Cox

I'll always wonder how people doubted, when Watt was coming out of high school, whether he would ever be big enough to play tight end. Watt is one of the most dominant defensive linemen of all time and could very easily become the best when it's all said and done. Donald's quickness and explosion make up for a lack of height; he's so quick, it looks like he's offsides on every play. In new Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's wide-nine approach, Cox will be let loose, which should help him generate a ton of sacks.

Willie McGinest: 1) Muhammad Wilkerson 2) Fletcher Cox 3) Aaron Donald

Wilkerson is very athletic in space and one of the most ferocious defensive linemen in the league. Cox is so explosive that he is even hard to double-team. Donald is very athletic for his size, has great leverage and is extremely quick.

Gregg Rosenthal: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Ndamukong Suh

This is the most stacked position in football. Donald had one of the five best seasons from any defensive player this century and didn't even win DPOY. Guys like Fletcher Cox, Kawann Short and Geno Atkins didn't even make the podium.

Charley Casserly: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Gerald McCoy 3) Aaron Donald

Watt is the best DL in football, no matter where you line him up. McCoy, I think, has always been underpublicized. Meanwhile, Aaron Donald might be the quickest interior DL in the NFL.

Elliot Harrison: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Fletcher Cox 3) Aaron Donald

Although Watt is technically a 3-4 DE, he is essentially considered an interior lineman in today's NFL, especially with all the guys coming off the edge. Most people would have Aaron Donald over Fletcher Cox -- yet every time I see the latter play, I marvel at how disruptive he is.

Michael Robinson: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Fletcher Cox 3) Marcell Dareus

Donald has just begun to tap into his talents as a persistent defensive tackle. Cox is a run stuffer and very deserving of his new contract. Dareus is a huge leader for the Bills' defense and a tremendous player.

Marcas Grant: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Geno Atkins

I just as easily could have listed Watt among the edge rushers, but Watt is too good at too many things to be pigeonholed like that. Without Robert Quinn and Chris Long for a notable chunk of the season, Donald still found a way to be dominant from his defensive tackle spot in 2015. Atkins bounced back in a major way last season, with 11 sacks and 42 tackles, after a 2014 campaign in which he didn't appear to be all the way back from major knee surgery.

Shaun O'Hara: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Geno Atkins 3) Kawann Short

Donald might have the best hands in the league and dominates with power. Atkins has one of the quickest first steps off the snap, while Short is a quiet, explosive defensive tackle.

Bucky Brooks: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Ndamukong Suh 3) Geno Atkins

Donald has quickly emerged as the most disruptive interior defender in the game. The 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year is an explosive pass rusher with exceptional quickness and violent hands.

This list is a good mix of car-pileup nose tackles and interior rushers. I'll probably get kidnapped by a J.J. Watt truther who touts his interior rushing skills, but relax -- I gave him gold in the other category.

Solomon Wilcots: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Geno Atkins 3) Ndamukong Suh

For the two years Donald has been in the league, no one has been as good as he's been. He's hard to block and splits double teams relentlessly and routinely. After a major knee injury in 2013, Atkins returned to form last year. I know people are down on Suh, but he's still a great player. When he wants to be, he can be the best in the league.

Dave Dameshek: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Fletcher Cox 3) Geno Atkins

Unlike most successful guys on the interior, Donald dominates with unique quickness. Like J.J. Watt, Cox is a terror wherever he lines up in whatever scheme he's put into.

Ike Taylor: 1) Gerald McCoy 2) Geno Atkins 3) Aaron Donald

McCoy is the anchor of the Bucs' D and is a ferocious DT to line up against. Atkins and Donald have produced impressive numbers for their respective teams. All these guys should tally 10-plus sacks in 2016.

Adam Schein: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Geno Atkins

Watt is an all-time great. I thought Donald was the second-best defensive player in the game last year.

Alex Gelhar: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Fletcher Cox

The top two were no-brainers, but settling on the bronze medal winner was a bit of a struggle. Cox won out over Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels thanks to his age (25) and recent performance (9.5 sacks last year).

Kevin Patra: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Aaron Donald 3) Geno Atkins

I didn't have the guts to put Donald over Watt. I apologize for my weakness.

Eric Davis: 1) Aaron Donald 2) Geno Atkins 3) Kawann Short

Donald and Atkins have shown just how disruptive they are at the 3-technique. Short might be the best interior lineman on a very good Panthers defense.

Jamie Dukes: 1) J.J. Watt 2) Geno Atkins 3) Aaron Donald

Watt is the most dominating defensive lineman in the NFL, but Atkins and Donald are also special players.

Adam Rank: 1) Aaron Donald 2) J.J. Watt 3) Michael Bennett

I will never get over the fact the Rams drafted Donald just one pick before the Chicago Bears. That's one thing you have to credit the Rams for: They drafted the best player available (regardless of need), and it's worked out very well for them. Todd Gurley and Donald weren't necessarily needs for the team on draft day, but now they have the best at two positions. Too bad they didn't have the same philosophy when they drafted a quarterback.

Now, some of you are going to be upset because I have Watt taking the silver. But in fairness to me, I don't think this is his best category. (He's rated as an 89 if you move him to a pure inside spot on MUT. That's Madden Ultimate Team. Typical of you to have to ask about it. Inquire more about it with your child. Unless your child is an infant, and then he or she would be just as ignorant as you about Madden Ultimate Team. And for the record, I'm more of a Draft Champions guy.) Again, though, to use the Michael Phelps comparison ... Phelps is no doubt the best swimmer in the world. But he won the silver in the 200-meter butterfly in the 2012 Olympics. So it's not a knock on Watt to have him slated for silver here. I see this category as the more traditional DT and more interior guys. And really, Watt moves around the field way, way too much to have him featured as just a straight interior D-lineman.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content