Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (HT: 6'0.75", WT: 285 lbs.)
First Round: 13th Pick
NFL Comparison: Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans
+ Incredibly explosive, very quick to engage
+ Devastating pass-rusher who applies interior pressure
+ Utilizes quick, violent hands to win the leverage battle
+ Extremely athletic, covers a lot of ground and displays good agility
+ High-character player with an outstanding work ethic
- Marginal size with very little growth potential
- Inconsistent anchor, occasionally struggles when opponents run at him
- Can be overwhelmed by bigger, longer-limbed blockers
- Often takes himself out of position to make a play
|6'3/4"||285 lbs.||32 5/8"||9 7/8"|
|40-yd dash||10-yd split||Vert||Broad||3-Cone||Bench|
Marking the Checklist
Due to his relatively diminutive stature for an NFL defensive tackle, measuring only 6'0.75" and 285 pounds, most were initially skeptical about Donald’s future at the next level. To be an exception to the rule, a player must exhibit extraordinary traits that allow him to win despite a physical disadvantage. Despite his limited frame, he has taken full advantage of every opportunity to prove to scouts and decision-makers that he can be an outstanding pro.
Over the course of his Pittsburgh career, he was remarkably productive, setting several school records. As a senior, he was perhaps the most dominant defender in college football. A unanimous All-American selection, he led the country in tackles for loss (28.5) and finished with 11 sacks. Though his tape was universally considered eye-popping, concerns loomed heading into the offseason regarding his transition to the NFL.
He was able to put some doubts to rest at the Senior Bowl, where he was the best player in attendance. In one-on-one drills, he demonstrated devastating quickness and beat his fellow NFL hopefuls with a variety of different techniques. He not only won with his explosiveness off the snap but was also able to toss much bigger blockers aside with quick hands and considerable upper-body strength.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, many expected Donald’s draft stock to crash back down to earth in a setting that compared him physically to his peers. On the contrary, his performance in Indianapolis proved to be the final mark on evaluators’ checklists. He was far and away the best player in his position group, shining in athletic tests and on-field drills.
*Average since 1999 per http://mockdraftable.com/position/14/
Few players helped themselves as much as Donald in the lengthy pre-draft process, as he was able to back up exceptional tape. His refined skill set, athleticism and work ethic make him impossible to bet against. Although he is not going to grow any taller or carry much more weight, he is a rare talent capable of being an exception to the rule in the trenches.
Considering the growth of the passing game in the NFL, the ability for defenses to generate pressure from a four-man rush has never been more important. By rushing just four, teams can commit more defenders to coverage and can vary their looks.
An explosive athlete with devastating quickness, Donald wreaks interior havoc and simply cannot be blocked at times. His ability to anticipate the snap and shoot gaps in the blink of an eye disrupts his opponents’ timing and can force them to alter their tempo. Furthermore, he is able to manipulate blockers with surprising lateral agility along with outstanding effort and intelligence.
Though he lacks ideal height, his arms are fairly long for his size, helping him to disengage. Despite his size disadvantage, he is able to utilize quick, violent hands to win the leverage battle at the line of scrimmage and keep his body clean.
This play against Miami illustrates his explosiveness and ability to shoot gaps quickly. Lined up at 3-technique, where he is likely to make most of his impact at the next level, Donald fires off the line of scrimmage and attacks the right guard’s inside shoulder on a slant. He blows by the first blocker to win the A-gap and congests the running lane, taking away the cutback. As the running back shows signs of hesitation, he dispatches the fullback to make the tackle.
Operating in Space
Known in college for his ability to penetrate and disrupt, Donald also impresses with his movement in space. Although most would scoff if you suggested giving him a look at linebacker, he changes direction remarkably well for a man his size. What’s more, he appears to have tremendous instincts, reading and reacting very quickly. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he raised eyebrows by moving effortlessly in drills and posted linebacker-like results in athletic tests.
Against Louisville in 2012, he demonstrated this competency in space. Off the snap, he drops back to cover the short middle zone, taking away the first read. As the quarterback is flushed from the pocket and rolls right, Donald sprints to the sideline from the far hash. He takes a good angle to the ball, showing impressive burst and speed to force Bridgewater to cut back inside for a limited gain.
Ultimately, this comfort in space allows defensive coordinators to get creative in how they use him. Taking him away from the line of scrimmage full time would be a waste of his greatest talents, but it would behoove coaches to use his versatility to add more flexibility to the defense.
Against the Run
While he generally plays with good leverage due to his low center of gravity and hand technique, Donald occasionally struggles to hold his ground at the point of attack. To occupy gaps and anchor against the run at the next level, size is typically a critical prerequisite. At 285 pounds with a maxed out frame, he lacks the mass many teams value in the trenches. Occasionally, these limitations show on tape, as he can be engulfed by longer blockers and simply overpowered at times.
On this play against Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets run directly at him. Donald slants into the A-gap and has his momentum used against him. As he crosses the right guard’s body, the blocker is able to get under his shoulder and force him to the ground.
His tape is generally excellent, but there are several instances in which his aggressiveness works against him and he appears to be overpowered. He was very productive against the run at Pittsburgh, but some teams may prefer to use him on the edge for running downs rather than inside.