Looking at what an athlete does in shorts and a shirt is a surefire way to overrate what he is capable of doing between the lines. When you combine those raw tools with performance, though, that's when you have found something special.
Aaron Donald doesn't look the part of a typical NFL defensive tackle. He's 6'0", 285 pounds and lacks the imposing physical presence you want to see from an interior lineman. But the 22-year-old has passed every test leading up to the 2014 NFL draft with flying colors and has proven himself to be a first-round talent.
It started with a very impressive 2013 season at Pittsburgh. Donald recorded 59 total tackles and 11 sacks en route to being named a 2013 First-Team All-American. He was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and garnered virtually every major award for a defensive player last year.
His crowning achievement came at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Donald didn't have the same level of hype as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but he was arguably more impressive:
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
He put up a 4.68-second time in the 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times (second among defensive linemen), which led anyone and everyone who covers the combine to rave about his potential.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller updated his mock draft after the combine, with Donald going 16th to the Dallas Cowboys, saying that his athleticism and quickness are a big reason why he won't last long:
Donald isn't the biggest guy (6'1", 285 lbs), but he has the lightning-quick first step needed to win battles along the line. He may never be great against the run, but he has the athletic profile, hand use and leverage to be a positional leader in sacks and tackles for loss in the NFL.
For perspective on how far Donald has come in such a short time, Miller had the Pitt product as a fourth-round pick in a mock draft released December 30.
In addition to Miller's scouting report, Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News wrote that Donald was helped by the combine more than any other prospect:
The big winner from the combine. The 6-1, 285-pound lineman clocked a ridiculous 4.68-second 40-yard dash, did 35 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, and, just as importantly, looked smooth and quick in defensive lineman drills. He has the look of an athletic defensive tackle, and he may have cemented his place in the first round.
It's so easy to get caught up in all the measurables. After all, with games concluding in January, all anyone has to pay attention to is what happens in a workout. We all have ideas of what a quarterback should throw like, how fast a running back should be, etc.
But at some point, when you combine the features with in-game effort, you have to put those stereotypical, artificial numbers aside.
No one is going to push Donald into the top five of prospects in this draft class. He's not that good, nor is this class lacking in talent. But anyone who thinks that he isn't a first-round talent because of physical stature is sorely mistaken.
Donald has now put himself in a category with fellow interior linemen Timmy Jernigan and Louis Nix III.
*All NFL Scouting Combine stats courtesy of NFL.com.
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