- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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The St. Louis Rams' two best players are among the 47 best in the NFL, at least according to the 2015 version of ESPN's #NFLRank.
Defensive end Robert Quinn and defensive tackle Aaron Donald check in at Nos. 35 and 47, respectively, in the latest rankings released Tuesday. Of course, that's probably not much of a surprise given the fact that Quinn and Donald are clearly the team's top two talents and among the best in the league at their respective positions.
Quinn took a pretty big drop in his ranking this year after finishing sixth among all defenders on the 2014 list. He is 11th among defenders this year.
That's probably to be expected considering Quinn's numbers also fell off a bit last season. In 2013, Quinn finished second in the NFL with 19 sacks and his seven forced fumbles led the NFC. Last year, Quinn still played well and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl but those numbers dipped to 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
But it seems likely Quinn is in line to see his production head north again in 2015. There are a few reasons for that but none bigger than the other player joining him on this list.
Donald won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 when he posted nine sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, 12 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. After the Rams' vaunted defensive line set a league record for sack futility in the first four games of last season, it was no coincidence that Quinn and everybody else began playing better when Donald entered the starting lineup in Week 6 against San Francisco.
From that point, the Rams' defense had 39 sacks, gave up 96.25 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 9 percent of opponent's pass attempts. Compare that to the one sack, 152.5 rushing yards allowed per game and average of a sack on 0.9 percent of opponent's pass attempts and it's clear what Donald's increased workload meant to the defense.
The scariest part for offenses is that Donald is just scratching the surface. He's consistently one of the first players in the building and his teammates rave about his desire to get better.
Quinn and Donald are both strong candidates to rank even higher on this list in 2016 but it's Donald's presence that should be most integral in making that happen.