INDIANAPOLIS — Strength and speed. It's the combination everyone looks for in just about every player. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald put those qualities on display all season long, and they were televised for the world to see once again at the 2014 scouting combine.
Donald lit up his workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, showing the world that even though he may be short on size, he's not short on athleticism. He was considered one of the top prospects at his position before the combine started, and his performance only solidified that status.
Here's a complete rundown of his numbers:
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical jump||Broad jump||3-cone drill|
|6'1"||285 pounds||32 5/8"||9 7/8"||4.68 sec *||35 reps *||32"||116"||7.11 sec *|
Source: NFL.com (* = top five performance at DL)
The 4.68-second 40-yard dash places Donald fifth among defensive linemen, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport thinks his was equally as impressive as Jadeveon Clowney, who had the fastest time for any defensive linemen at 4.53 seconds:
As impressive as Clowney’s 40 was, Pitt DT Aaron Donald’s 4.65 at 285 may be just as impressive. Lit it up at Senior Bowl too.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2014
Combine the freakish burst with immense strength—his 35 bench press reps were second-best for any defensive linemen—and you have a scary presence in the middle. Donald is listed as the second-best defensive tackle prospect in the draft by CBS Sports, but according to Rob Rang, his frame is a red flag. The explosiveness off the line of scrimmage will certainly help in that regard, but if he's unable to win his matchup off the snap, he can be stonewalled:
As with most undersized pass-rushers, when Donald's burst is contained his short arms limit his effectiveness. Donald keeps his legs churning and plays with effort, but he can get caught up in the hand-to-hand combat.
That being said, he's been so effective using his burst that his production at the collegiate level wasn't hindered. He led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss and ranked fourth in the ACC with 11 sacks. Those are impressive numbers for anyone, but especially an interior defender, who doesn't always get to go straight to the backfield and make plays,
Bleacher Report's lead NFL draft analyst Matt Miller has been high on Donald for some time, despite the doubts about his size as a limiting factor in the NFL:
I really like Aaron Donald. Might be one of my favorite guys in this year's draft. Underdog in some circles, but he's an ideal 3-tech— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2014
Donald described himself as a 3-technique as well, but he has experience playing all over the line.
"In college, I played different positions," he said. "I played nose tackle, I played in a three-man front as a 5-tech, I played 3-tech, so I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that's a plus for me."
For his size and style of play, Donald has been frequently compared to Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who stands at 6'1" and 303 pounds. Donald gives up about 20 pounds on Atkins, but the two share a similar style of play with their burst off the snap. When looking at further comparisons for Donald, Miller looks at Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.
Like Donald, Casey was also undersized entering the NFL at 6'1" and 300 pounds, but NFL.com's scouting report on Casey spoke glowingly of his high motor and strength, although it points out he wasn't quite the pass-rusher that Donald is:
Casey is not the most impressive player on the hoof, but he has the strength and foot quickness to develop into a disruptive force at the next level. His stocky build and lower body strength make him very difficult to move out of holes, and he uses his quick hands to effectively shed blockers. He is not a refined pass rusher, but he has a relentless motor and will become more effective with improved hand placement and technique. Casey is not athletic enough to be a three-technique at the next level, but he is a great run stopper and should be an early second-day pick.
As teams look for those ideal inside pass-rushers to help prevent a quarterback from stepping into his throws, players like Donald have become more of a commodity. Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram thinks that his strong showing at the combine may have improved his stock:
After impressive showing at the senior bowl and now the combine, the Cowboys might have to trade up from 16 to get Pitt DT Aaron Donald. Wow— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) February 24, 2014
Now that the combine performance has verified the traits we saw from Donald on tape, NFL scouts may begin to feel the same way as Hill does. Regardless, he should not fall out of the first round.