Rams' Aaron Donald: Football without fans 'wouldn't be fun'

Thu May 21 7:37pm ET
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) Aaron Donald is not thrilled about the prospect of playing football without fans.

The Los Angeles Rams' superstar defensive lineman doesn't like the idea of playing an NFL season in front of empty seats, saying it ''wouldn't be fun to me.''

''I feel like you need fans to play the game,'' Donald added Thursday on a video conference call from his offseason home in Pittsburgh. ''I don't see how you could play a game without the fans. I feel like that takes out the excitement and the fun out of the game.''

Donald realizes his opinion won't carry much weight if the coronavirus pandemic forces the NFL to take extraordinary measures to provide a television product to the world. But the six-time Pro Bowl selection is among those sportsmen worldwide who don't really see the point of continuing with their professions while large crowds are unable to gather safely.

''I feel like the fans pick you up,'' Donald said. ''The fans are what makes the game exciting. The fans would give you that extra juice when you're tired and fatigued. When you make that big play and you hear 80,000 fans going crazy, that pumps you up. If you don't have that in the game, I think that just takes the fun out of it.''

The possible realities of a pandemic year are coming home for Donald and the Rams, who haven't reopened their training complex while conducting their spring work online. Donald is used to missing offseason workouts with his teammates, thanks to two contract holdouts that eventually ended with his mammoth six-year, $135 million extension in August 2018.

Donald usually spends much of his offseason working out at Pitt, where the Aaron Donald Football Performance Center is at his disposal for obvious reasons.

But with the university shut down due to the pandemic, Donald said he has been working out ''back where it all started'' in The Dungeon - his nickname for the tiny basement of his father's home. He's lifting weights three days a week for at least two hours a day alongside his nephew, a high school defensive lineman.

Donald has still been busy with his school, however: He recently finished his communications degree, joining his brother and sister as college graduates.

''I've been taking classes for the past couple of years here and there, online classes,'' said Donald, who headed to the NFL in 2014. ''It's a promise I made to my mom and dad. When I got drafted, I promised my mom and dad that I'd still get the degree, because that's what they wanted. It took a while, but I accomplished it. They were proud of me. I'm just glad and relieved that I'm finally done.''

Donald will head back to the West Coast eventually, but he is getting plenty of screen time with his new teammates and with the Rams' coaching staff, including new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Donald is optimistic about the direction of the Rams' defense, although he is getting eager to get onto a football field so he can learn Staley's schemes alongside his teammates.

Staley, a relatively inexperienced NFL assistant who just got his first coordinator job in the league, realizes he has an enormous advantage in his task with likely the best defensive lineman in the world at the center of his planning.

''My mom is a teacher, and she always said, `You've got to get your best students to perform better,''' Staley said. ''It's easy to take the best students for granted. ... We all know what he's capable of, but how can we help him do his job better and maybe lift some weight off his shoulders? We want to make sure we get him in as many isolations as possible. If we can get him against one (blocker) as opposed to two, then our odds of being successful go through the roof.''

Staley still has a few months left to work on ways for Donald to make a splash in the Rams' palatial SoFi Stadium. LA's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints is now scheduled to be the first event ever held in the Inglewood arena, thanks to postponements of concerts by Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and Guns N' Roses due to the pandemic.

Donald isn't exactly looking forward to breaking in a new stadium without tens of thousands of his closest friends, however.

''You practice and practice and practice, and you prepare to play a game and be on a big stage and play in front of a crowd,'' Donald said. ''Without fans, I don't see how that could be possible. There's just no excitement.''

Player Notes
Melvin Gordon May 31 3:10pm ET

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III had 6,000-plus scrimmage yards and two Pro Bowl selections in five seasons with the Chargers, but he thinks the Broncos running scheme is better suited to his strengths as an explosive, downhill runner. Gordon had 2,587 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in his final year in college in a zone-based offense similar. He had his moments as a perimeter runner with the Bolts, but his straight-line running style is better suited in an offense with more downhill runs. Denver has a zone-based system that's expected to feature more downhill plays under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The Broncos plan on using Gordon as their lead back despite Phillip Lindsay's presence, and in an offense better suited to his strengths as a runner, Gordon could be more efficient and give fantasy owners RB1 upside at an RB2 cost.

From RotoBaller

Baker Mayfield May 31 2:50pm ET

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks thinks that Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is primed for the best season of his career in new head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense. Cleveland's 12-personnel packages featuring tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku, along with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb, will be hard to stop. Mayfield averaged 9.0 yards per attempt (third-most in the NFL) in 12-personnel setups last year, and that formation is Stefanski's preference. Mayfield was also much better on play-action passes last year, so the Browns should look to feature those types of plays to take the pressure off the third-year passer. Cleveland's rebuilt offensive line should also give Mayfield better protection in 2020. All of this should add up to Mayfield being much more productive under Stefanski, making him a fine QB2 target with QB1 upside after his disappointing 2019 campaign.

From RotoBaller

Dak Prescott May 31 2:10pm ET

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has not yet signed the franchise tender as he seeks a long-term deal from the team. History suggests the sides will come together before the July 15 deadline or Prescott may not be with Dallas beyond this season. Since the franchise tag was introduced in 1993, only eight quarterbacks have been tagged and all but two, Drew Brees in 2005 and Kirk Cousins in 2018, got extensions prior to the season. Prescott is coming off the best season of his four-year career throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He enters fantasy draft season as a top-three option at quarterback in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Deshaun Watson May 30 4:30pm ET

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, a first-rounder in 2017, is under contract through 2021 after the Texans picked up his fifth-year option, but he expects to reach a long-term extension with the team that will keep him around for a while. He's not stressing about a timeline, but Watson is optimistic that something will get done in due time. The former Clemson star is already a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time AFC South champion, throwing for 10,586 yards, 75 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. His dual-threat abilities as a runner and passer make him a surefire QB1, but the loss of stud wideout DeAndre Hopkins this offseason has slightly lowered his ceiling in the fantasy realm. RotoBaller has Watson listed as the No. 6 fantasy QB target heading into the 2020 season.

From RotoBaller

George Kittle May 30 4:20pm ET

The San Francisco 49ers and tight end George Kittle are far apart in negotiations on a contract extension, and Kittle's agent said that a "tight end deal" is a non-starter in talks. Kittle has 3,016 career receiving yards, including the playoffs, which is the most by a tight end in his first three seasons in NFL history. Not only is Kittle one of the best receiving tight ends in the game right now, but he's also one of the best blocking tight ends, which makes him a unique talent that should easily reset the tight end market to lofty heights whenever he does get paid. He's entering the final year of his four-year rookie deal and is set to make roughly $2.13 million in 2020, 35th at the position behind MyCole Pruitt and Marcedes Lewis. Kittle is an elite fantasy tight end that could come off the board as early as Round 2.

From RotoBaller

Jake Butt May 30 3:30pm ET

Denver Broncos tight end Jake Butt (knee) said he is back to 100 percent health heading into the 2020 season. Butt was drafted in the fifth round in 2017 out of Michigan, but he's played in just three games (all in 2018) and has had four pretty serious knee surgeries since 2014. As he heads into his age-25 campaign, Butt is desperately trying to prove that he can stay on the field, but it is probably too late. Denver drafted pass-catching tight end Noah Fant in the first round last year and spent more draft capital on rookie Albert Okwuegbunam a month ago. The Broncos also have Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett on the roster, so even if Butt manages to stay healthy in 2020, he's highly unlikely to see much playing time.

From RotoBaller

Cam Newton May 30 3:20pm ET

With free-agent quarterback Cam Newton's market cooling over the last month, according to sources, he is expected to take his time before joining a team. Newton could wait until teams resume regular activity following the coronavirus shutdown. It would give teams a chance to check on Newton's health and meet with him in person. But sources around the league are unsure if he'll settle for a backup job. Sources believe Newton and the Patriots talked early during his free agency, but nothing materialized. The 31-year-old was released by the Panthers on March 24. He missed 14 games last year with a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery and the final two games of 2018 with a shoulder injury that required surgery, so teams are justifiably skeptical about his ability to continue being a dual-threat QB at this stage of his career. But he apparently passed a physical on March 23, with both his shoulder and foot "checking out well," according to a source. Unless an injury pops up for a current starter during training camp, Newton may have to settle for a backup job in 2020.

From RotoBaller

Teddy Bridgewater May 30 1:00am ET

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule had great things to say about quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's character and influence on Around The NFL on Friday. Rhule has been able to familiarize himself with and strengthen his bond with Bridgewater during the virtual offseason program. "The best players in the world bring out the best in their teammates and I can tell you, since free agency started, the amount of the guys that want to come and play with Teddy has nothing to do with me or anybody else," Rhule said. The head coach has always admired Bridgewater since coaching against him in college. The 27-year-old is finally getting another chance to start in the NFL and has his head coach fully behind him. Bridgewater doesn't have the strongest arm and may not run as much as he did early in his career, but he has a strong supporting cast and could be playing from behind often in a tough division. He's not a QB1 target or even a high-end QB2, but Bridgewater could surprise some as a fantasy backup and occasional streamer.

From RotoBaller

Josh Allen May 29 4:40pm ET

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs have gathered in Florida this week to work out together. Allen and backup Matt Barkley threw to rookies Isaiah Hodgins, Gabriel Davis and Zack Moss in California earlier this month. It's the first time that Allen and Diggs have met since the Bills acquired Diggs from the Vikings in March. Others present in Florida include quarterback Jake Fromm, receivers John Brown, Robert Foster, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie and Nick Easley, running back Devin Singletary and tight ends Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney, Nate Becker and Jason Croom. Allen has the weapons around him to take another leap in 2020 if he develops as a passer, giving him top-five QB upside. Diggs' ceiling depends on how much Allen improves with deep-ball accuracy, making him a midrange WR2.

From RotoBaller

Aldon Smith May 29 3:30pm ET

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith reportedly "feels great" despite not appearing in an NFL game since November 10, 2015. Smith said, "I still feel young. I still can move well. I still have a great knowledge of the game, if not better knowledge of the game." Smith is still just 30 and has the record for most sacks in the first two seasons of an NFL career, with 33.5. With his personal life perhaps finally under control, Smith could still be a difference maker for the Cowboys Defense in 2020.

From RotoBaller

DeForest Buckner May 29 2:30pm ET

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford (knee) had "a pretty extensive cleanup" on his knee a couple weeks after the season and said that he feels great. Ford was limited during the 2019 season because of knee tendinitis and missed five games with a hamstring injury as well. The 29-year-old played just 22 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season, according to Next Gen Stats, but saw that number increase to 53.2 percent in the playoffs. The pass-rusher had 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles during the regular season and added a sack and three tackles in the postseason. The former Chief has struggled with injuries in his career, but when healthy he can be a pass-rushing force. The Niners need him to be that in 2020 to help make up for DeForest Buckner's absence.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Peterson May 29 1:30pm ET

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes during the 2014 season, and living with diabetes could force him to decide whether or not to play should the NFL return this year during the coronavirus pandemic. Peterson said he'll be comfortable playing if the proper protocols are followed by the league. The 29-year-old doesn't have an increased chance of acquiring the virus, but he has a greater risk of serious complications arising from the virus. However, his risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 is lower if his diabetes is well-managed. We'd bet on Peterson playing this year if the season starts on time, but it's not a guarantee. He'll be looking to bounce back after a trying 2019 season that saw him miss six games due to suspension.

From RotoBaller

Deshaun Watson May 29 1:20pm ET

The Houston Texans and right guard Zach Fulton agreed to a reworked contract on Friday, according to a source. Fulton was due $14 million over the next two years with no guarantees, but now he'll be due $5 million guaranteed in 2020 and $3 million non-guaranteed in 2021. The Texans will also get some salary cap relief with the move. The 28-year-old just finished his second season in Houston and will help bring more continuity to an offensive line that must remain solid in front of quarterback Deshaun Watson and new running back David Johnson. Fulton was a sixth-round draft pick of the Chiefs in 2014 and spent the first four years of his career in Kansas City.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson May 28 11:00pm ET

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said that quarterback Lamar Jackson must make defenses pay if they stack the box against the Ravens offense in 2020. "Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on some downfield throws, and we got to make them pay for it. We absolutely have to make them pay," Harbaugh said. Jackson led the league with 36 touchdown passes in the NFL's highest-scoring offense in 2019, also setting an NFL record for rushing yards for a QB with 1,206 on his way to MVP honors. At age 22, he was the youngest QB to win the award. But on throws that traveled at least 15 yards, Jackson ranked 27th in completions (35) and 22nd in completion rate (43.8 percent). He certainly has the arm to make teams pay, and it would be good news for second-year wideouts Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin if Jackson takes the next step as a deep thrower. Even if Jackson runs less than he did a year ago, he should be either the first or second QB selected in fantasy drafts.

From RotoBaller

Chris Jones May 28 9:50pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones hasn't had much traction with the team on a contract extension, but both sides still have until July 15 to work something out. Jones has yet to sign his franchise tender, but he's kept in touch with the Chiefs during the virtual offseason program, according to sources. The market for high-end defensive tackles like Jones is $20-plus-million per season. The 25-year-old former second-round selection in 2016 has racked up 33 sacks in his four seasons with the Chiefs, including 14.5 the last two years. He was a Pro Bowler in 2019 for the first time in his career and should be considered a top-20 defensive lineman in IDP formats.

From RotoBaller

Matt Judon May 28 8:00pm ET

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matt Judon signed his one-year franchise tender on Thursday, according to a source. The one-year deal will carry a value of $16.27 million in 2020. The Ravens and Judon still have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension, but that's unlikely to happen considering the Ravens initially tagged Judon with the possibility of trading him. The former fifth-round pick in 2016 has 135 solo tackles, 45 tackles for loss, 82 QB hits, 28.5 sacks, eight passes defensed and seven forced fumbles in his four seasons. Judon was a Pro Bowler in 2019 when he had a career-high 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 33 QB hits. He'll be entering his age-28 season in 2020.

From RotoBaller

Joe Flacco May 28 7:00pm ET

New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco (neck) says that he is embracing his new role as the backup quarterback to Sam Darnold. He says that his job is to help the team get better and to help a young quarterback see things as clearly as possible. Flacco started the first eight games for the Denver Broncos before suffering a season-ending neck injury. He still believes he can be a starting quarterback in the league, but understands his new role with the Jets.

From RotoBaller

DeAndre Hopkins May 28 6:50pm ET

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins expects to put up numbers in the team's pass-happy offense under head coach Kliff Kingsbury in his first season in 2020. "So myself, being a receiver, of course I see my stats going up. ... But I definitely see myself having one of my more productive seasons," Hopkins said. He also said he hasn't met up with quarterback Kyler Murray yet, but he plans on getting together with him and the other receivers "soon." Arizona has plenty of aerial weapons in an attack that will feature a lot of four-wide sets, but Nuk will be the No. 1 option for a young QB with a ton of potential. He's consistently one of the most efficient fantasy wideouts on a yearly basis and is a no-doubt top-five fantasy receiver for drafts this fall.

From RotoBaller

Eli Apple May 28 6:40pm ET

The Carolina Panthers agreed to terms on an undisclosed one-year deal with cornerback Eli Apple on Thursday. Apple agreed with the Raiders earlier in free agency, but the Raiders backed out of the deal and put Apple back on the open market. The 10th overall pick in 2016 by the Giants, Apple failed to live up to his draft billing in two-plus seasons in the Big Apple, and he was underwhelming in 15 games for the Saints last year (53 solo tackles, no interceptions, four passes defensed). But with Donte Jackson and Corn Elder currently set as the two starting corners on the outside, Apple should see plenty of playing time for a Carolina secondary with plenty of questions.

From RotoBaller

Justice Hill May 28 5:10pm ET

Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill played sparingly during his rookie season last year. Hill finished the year with just 66 touches after getting stuck behind Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards. The Ravens added to their crowded running back room in the 2020 NFL draft when they used a second-round pick on J.K. Dobbins. That leaves an unclear role for Hill in 2020. Head coach John Harbaugh is still high on Hill, however, stating that he expects the sophomore runner to make a big jump. He also went on to tell reporters that there is a role for all four runners in Baltimore. Hill remains a deep dynasty stash but he may not be fantasy relevant until 2021 when Ingram is presumably out of the picture.

From RotoBaller