That was from 2015 to 2016 when the Richmond, California native McKinley emerged as an All-Conference standout in L.A. playing Pac-12 football — which was also during the time of “A.D’s” first couple of First Team All-Pro nods. McKinley would join Donald in this category: Defensive linemen to be drafted in the first round in the years they entered the league.
Fast forward to 2022, and the man who once struck fear into the hearts of running backs and quarterbacks on Saturdays and was once given a rich $10 million deal walked into the same locker room with Donald on Thursday, September 22…this time with McKinley becoming teammates with the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
But was Donald a defensive lineman “Takk” looked up to before?
McKinley Gives Donald This Title
McKinley returns to L.A. aiming to rejuvenate his career that’s seen an injury pileup and publicized falling out with the Atlanta Falcons — the team that took him in and gave him an entry-level contract of four years for $10,216,530.
The former late first rounder, who was recently on the Tennessee Titans practice squad before being claimed by the Rams on Wednesday, September 21, was asked during his first session with the L.A. media as a Ram on his thoughts about joining a defense featuring Donald in the trenches.
“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it yet. I know it sounds crazy to say,” McKinley said. “I’ve just been grateful to be on the field. I mean, yes it’s a blessing to be out there with him. I mean, it’s a big blessing. But I’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of catching up to do with the playbook. Get my feet back underneath me and get my confidence back and just enjoy the game.”
But that doesn’t mean the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder and former 26th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t in awe of the chiseled defensive lineman alongside him.
“It’s nice to look to the right though and say ‘Oh dang [that’s Donald]!’” McKinley said.
Most younger defensive linemen often cite Donald as their influence for their game, being inspired by his work ethic and ability to beat blockers with an array of hand moves. But when McKinley was less than 40 miles away from the Rams, was Donald one of his trench influences?
“Not as much. Donald is more of a three-technique,” McKinley said. “At UCLA, I watched a little more of Aldon Smith, Tamba Hali and Robert Mathis — more of those guys who emulates my game a little bit. But Aaron Donald is a goat.”
How McKinley Can Benefit From ‘A.D. Effect’
For an Ex-first rounder looking to shed the disappointment of his Falcons fallout and ruptured Achilles tendon from his Cleveland Browns tenure, he gets this benefit from being next to Donald: The “A.D. Effect.”
D’Marco Farr, who anchored the defensive line during the Rams’ first Super Bowl run of 1999 and is part of the Rams’ broadcast team, first made mention of the effect Donald has on fellow defensive linemen. Long story short, it’s when others line up next to Donald…especially if they were a free agent addition a la Leonard Floyd and in the past, Dante Fowler.
Fowler produced his best sack season with Donald by his side. Floyd produced his best mark of 10.5 sacks in 2020 while teaming with “A.D” in his first Rams campaign. Even Von Miller saw his sack numbers improve from 2019 when the Rams traded for him in 2021.
Along with returning to L.A., perhaps McKinley will be the next to see a career ascension and renaissance with Donald next to him.