Aaron Donald has nothing left to accomplish in the NFL. He’s got the Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2017-2018, 2020). He’s got the Pro Bowls (2014-2022) and First-Team All-Pro selections (2015-2021). And after the Los Angeles Rams made a successful and magical run to a victory in Super Bowl 56, Donald’s got the championship cementing his legacy as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.
But, for now, as he potentially ponders his future away from a rebuilding Rams team, Donald won’t play in the 2022 Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl. (Never mind whether he deserved the recognition after missing the final third of the regular season.) In what some will view as a sign he’s being considered the potential next-best defensive tackle in pro football — the Washington Commanders’ Daron Payne was named the prolific Donald’s replacement on Thursday.
And I have to ask: are we sure that’s true? Payne being that good, his dominance aside?
Washington’s Daron Payne was named to the Pro Bowl today to replace Aaron Donald, who told the NFL that he is unable to participate.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 19, 2023
Don’t get me wrong. I love what Payne brings to the table. He’s a terrific disruptor and one of the main reasons the Commanders were in this year’s playoff picture until a late-season fizzling out.
But, for example, where is the Philadelphia Eagles’ Javon Hargrave? (He wasn’t on our main list of top Pro Bowl snubs, for one.)
His numbers — from QB hits (16 to Payne’s 20) and tackles-for-loss (10 to Payne’s 18) to sacks (11 to Payne’s 11.5) — are certainly comparable to the Commanders’ pending unrestricted free agent. Never mind that Payne has the pleasure of playing next to an established fellow Pro Bowler in Jonathan Allen, while Hargrave is more or less the No. 1 centerpiece of the Eagles’ defense next to an aging Fletcher Cox.
What about the Green Bay Packers’ Kenny Clark? The 2022 season certainly wasn’t his best campaign, but he still had double-digit QB hits and has the backlog of a two-time Pro Bowler. The reputation is already there!
None of this is to detract from Payne’s most recent output, but something tells me we’re going to have a hearty debate moving forward about who really deserves the top DT crown in Donald’s stead. Especially if he steps away temporarily (or permanently).