2014 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Aaron Donald

  • Superb pass-rusher
  • Explosive
  • Very fast interior defensive lineman
  • Strong hands
  • Closes on quarterbacks in a hurry
  • Fast feet
  • Repertoire of pass-rushing moves
  • Splash plays
  • Excellent get-off
  • Extremely disruptive
  • Ability to shed blocks
  • Surprising strength with bull rush
  • Natural pad level
  • Solid run-defender
  • Anchors surprisingly well in run defense
  • Very strong for his size
  • Dedicated patron of the weight room
  • Can take over games
  • Excellent motor
  • Durable
  • Well conditioned
  • Experienced; 3-year starter
  • Looks like a safe pick to plug and contribute quickly

  • Weaknesses:
  • Limited scheme projection
  • Lacks scheme flexibility
  • Undersized
  • Frame is maxed out
  • Could improve his run defense for when teams run straight at him

  • Summary: If Donald were bigger, he would be the top-rated tackle and a high first-round pick. Over the past three seasons, Donald was one of the best interior defensive linemen in college football. He was phenomenal in 2013.

    Donald got the 2013 season started with a good performance against future National Champion Florida State with a sack and other pressures on Jameis Winston. From there, Donald lived in the backfield as he recorded multi-sack games against Virginia Tech, New Mexico and Virginia. Donald was one of the nation’s leaders with 11 sacks and led the country in tackles for a loss with 28.5. He also had 59 tackles, two passes batted and four forced fumbles.

    Donald started his 2012 slowly, but rebounded in the second half. The junior totaled 64 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two passes broken up. A year earlier, he had a breakout sophomore season with 47 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks.

    Donald was the most impressive player at the Senior Bowl. He destroyed the offensive linemen in the pass-rushing one-on-ones and carried that over into the team scrimmage. Donald dominated the consensus-top guard in the draft class, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson, as he burned him with speed rushes. Donald also beat Richardson with powerful bull rushes despite Richardson having a 50-pound advantage. Donald put on a show with his pass-rushing ability as he was excellent in every practice in Mobile.

    There is a ton to love about Donald as a player. He is a dynamite pass-rusher, which his collegiate sack total (29.5) indicates. Donald is explosive off the snap with a great get-off. He has pure speed to fire the gap as a three-technique and is very fast to close on the quarterback. Donald has developed repertoire of moves to keep offensive linemen on their heels and is very adept at shedding blocks and gaining leverage.

    Donald is undersized, but he is extremely strong for his size. He has massive upper-body strength that he uses to shed blocks, and with his natural pad level, he can bench press offensive linemen and bull rush them down the pocket.

    As a run-defender, Donald is at his best when he attacks up field. Donald is strong to battle at the line of scrimmage and holds his ground well for an undersized tackle. Handling downhill runs coming straight at him could be his biggest adjustment for the next level.

    For the NFL, Donald should be a three-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. If a 3-4 team is comfortable with an undersized nose tackle, he could be in play there, but that is the exception rather than the norm. Donald doesn’t fit as an end in a 3-4 or a nose tackle in a 4-3. Using him in a role other than three-technique in a 4-3 could be a waste of his skills.

    Donald is a rare defensive tackle prospect who could become a double-digit sacker in the passing-driven NFL. That should get him selected in the first or second round next May.

    Player Comparison: Randy Starks. There aren’t a lot of players in the NFL with Donald’s body type, but a player who has a similar style of play is Starks. Both are speed defenders who cause disruption at the point of attack. Starks (6-3, 305) is a skilled pass-rusher who puts consistent pressure on the quarterback. Donald does that as well while being a little smaller than Starks. Coming out of Maryland, Starks was a third-round pick, but Donald should go a round earlier. Starks has enjoyed a nice career with the Titans and Dolphins.

    NFL Matches: Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Oakland

    There are a lot of teams that could consider Donald in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. The highest that he could hope to go would be in the middle to the back half of the first round. There are three teams that could use defensive tackles, and it looks unlikely Donald would fall to their second-round picks, so if any of those three want him, they have to get him with their first selection – or maybe trade down.

    The Cowboys badly need a three-technique for Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2, and Donald would be a perfect fit. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli likes his tackles to be short, quick and thick. Donald fits that to a tee, so landing in Dallas could be the highest hope for Donald.

    The Bears (Henry Melton) and Dolphins (Randy Starks) both have their interior pass-rushing defensive tackles hitting free agency. If these organizations don’t re-sign them, Donald could be in play for Chicago or Miami, but either of those teams would probably need to trade down.

    The Seahawks could use an interior pass-rusher and disruptor. Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane combined for two sacks this season. The fast, strong and physical Donald is a good fit in Seattle’s defense.

    Jacksonville needs help all over its defense, including the inside of the defensive line. The Jaguars had a pathetic pass rush in 2013, and getting Donald to rush from the interior would be an upgrade.

    The Falcons also have to improve the interior of their defensive line. The team’s staff coached Donald at the Senior Bowl, and he bonded well with defensive line coach Brian Cox. Donald would be a good fit in Atlanta and could be the player who Thomas Dimitroff thought he was getting when he took Peria Jerry in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Donald would be a great fit for the Falcons in the second round.

    The Raiders need to improve their defensive tackles and almost drafted one in the first round last year. Oakland has to get better at rushing the passer, and Donald could have an impact in getting Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith to move off a spot. Donald makes a lot of sense for the Raiders in Round 2.

    Follow @walterfootball for updates.


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