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HomeSportsAaron Donald vs Lawrence Taylor: Who's the more dominant defensive player?

Aaron Donald vs Lawrence Taylor: Who’s the more dominant defensive player?

Flickr photo “Aaron Donald” by Brook-Ward shared under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC).

It’s always difficult to compare legendary players from different generations, but in the case of Aaron Donald vs. Lawrence Taylor, it had to be done.

Both are generational talents and are among the best defensive players of all time, especially when it comes to fighting quarterbacks and wreaking havoc in the backfield. But when it comes to Donald versus Taylor, who was the more dominant player?

Comparison between Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor

No one is saying the Taylor-Donaldson comparison will be easy. Frankly, it’s hard to deny that every player is a legendary figure on the soccer field. But let’s take a closer look at both players’ careers to see if we can determine who’s better between Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor.

Based on the numbers

Right off the bat, comparing Donald and Lawrence solely by number Taylor has an inherent advantage. He spent 13 seasons in the NFL while Donald is only eight years into his career, with no guarantee he’ll stay in the league as long as Taylor. In his 13 seasons, Taylor has averaged just over 10 sacks per season and at one point surpassed at least 10 sacks in seven straight seasons.

That includes a career-high 20.5 sacks in 1986 when he led the NFL in sacks. If we level the playing field, Taylor averaged 12.3 sacks per season in his first eight years in the league. He also had eight interceptions and 34 forced fumbles in those eight years.

For comparison, Donald averaged 12.25 sacks per season in his first eight years in the league. His career high, at least up to this point, matches Taylor’s career high of 20.5 sacks in a single season.

Unfortunately, much like Taylor, he accumulated at least 12 sacks every year between his fifth and eighth seasons, when both players were in their prime. The difference is that Donald has only 23 forced fumbles in his first eight seasons, despite having 16 pass deflections as a defender despite not having any interceptions, which is reasonable.

Special services

In his 13 seasons, Taylor was a 10-time Pro Bowler and was selected in each of his first 10 seasons. He was also an All-Pro in his first 10 seasons and made the first-team eight times. Taylor has been named Defensive Player of the Year three times in his career, including his first two seasons in the league and then again in 1986, where he received MVP honors.

It’s important to note that Taylor is only the second and youngest defensive player to be MVP. He also won two Super Bowls, although the second didn’t come until his 10th season when his numbers declined slightly.

Similar to Taylor, Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and was a Pro Bowler during his rookie season. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons and was a first-team All-Pro selection every year except for his rookie season. Donald has also received three Defensive Player of the Year awards in his first eight seasons. He’s also led the NFL in sacks only once, matching Taylor.

Outside vs inside?

While the numbers and performance are similar when comparing Taylor and Donald, it’s important to note that this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Not only did they play in different eras, but they also played in different positions. Taylor was an outside linebacker while Donald plays on the inside defensive line.

Full-backs are considered bigger differences than center-backs, largely due to Taylor’s impact on the game. While it’s widely accepted that both Taylor and Donald are better head and shoulders than the average player in their positions, it’s undeniable that Taylor plays a more important position, especially by today’s standards.

The fact that Donald has posted similar sack numbers and has come close to matching Taylor’s accomplishments and accolades while playing a position expected to have less statistical impact makes him the more dominant player and the bigger difference maker.

change the game

The one area where Taylor stands out from almost every other defensive player in NFL history, including Donald, is her impact on the game. Before Taylor, there wasn’t an outside linebacker who devastated opposing quarterbacks the way he did. Not only was he strong and powerful, but he forced teams to use formations and schemes to purposefully slow him down.

Taylor was the first player to consistently force teams to use offensive tackles to block flaring linebackers. He helped create a generation where most of the elite pass rushers in the NFL are outside linebackers, not defensive ends. In other words, he made a lasting impact on the game.

To be fair, opposing teams also need to plan around Donald. At his best, he’s a disruptive factor that can change games and throw a team completely out of rhythm. But the league hasn’t gotten to a point where it’s trying to find players with the same tools and skills as Donald. Maybe that will change, but right now it doesn’t do justice to Donald Taylor’s influence on the way football is played.

The judgment

Historically, it’s difficult to say that any defensive player in NFL history has been better or more effective than Taylor. He was a physical specimen, a feared player and did things no other player in his position had done before and changed the game forever.

But Donald isn’t far behind, even with fewer seasons under his belt.

So far, Donald has matched Taylor’s numbers and performances in a position that typically produces fewer sacks and receives far less recognition than players in Taylor’s position. He does all of that despite being fired by some early in his career for being too short.

Right now, the fact that Taylor has played more seasons and his impact on the NFL is still being felt makes him the more dominant player. When all is said and done, it’s unlikely anyone will ever eclipse him as the best defensive player in NFL history.

However, Donald is closer to Taylor’s level than most people realize. If Donald continues on his current path five years from now, Taylor could be 1A and Donald 1B when it comes to the best defensive players in NFL history.

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