It happens in the NFL draft every year. There are players that conclude their final season of college football as borderline first round picks. They are considered either late first round picks or early second round selections. After the dominant senior season Aaron Donald had, he is one of these athletes.
When you factor in college production, it makes you wonder how Donald is not considered a top ten pick. If you watched the college awards show, it was impossible to miss the defensive lineman from the university of Pittsburgh.
Donald was the ACC defensive player of the year, but that was just the first of many accolades he had received. He was awarded the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland trophies from the college awards show. The last player who won all those awards in a single season was Ndamukong Suh.
Suh was the Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2009 and was even a Heisman finalist. Suh was extremely destrutive at the university of Nebraska, which ultimately led him to become the second overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the 2010 draft. There are a lot of similarities between Suh and Donald, but why was one the second overall pick and the other a potential late first round pick?
There is only one negative about Aaron Donald as a defensive lineman and it is his size. He stands at six feet tall and weighs 284 pounds. Suh is a much larger lineman, in which he is six feet four inches and weighs 307 pounds. Size is the only reason why Aaron Donald is not considered an early first round pick. To me it does not matter, Aaron Donald is not a player you want to pass on in the 2014 NFL draft.
Donald has all the production in college as Suh did, but it is hard to make a fair comparison in some ways due to his size. So for a better comparison, I look to another prospect in the 2010 draft with the same criticism.
Geno Atkins was a productive collegiate player from the university of Georgia. When you scouted Atkins during the draft process that year, his strengths and weaknesses were similar to Donald’s. Atkins was considered a good pass rusher from the interior with all around good athleticism to move around.
Atkins main criticism was his size, just like Donald. Now why does size matter so much for a defensive lineman? An interior lineman must be able to hold his own, as he will face many double teams when dealing with the opposition’s guards and center. He must be able to hold the mesh point and plug the gaps to help the defense in the run game. These were the reasons why teams were hesitant to draft the 6’1 prospect out of Georgia, until the Bengals took him in the fourth round.
The Bengals took a chance on Atkins and he was recently rewarded with a five-year extension. He is considered one of the top defensive interior linemen in the NFL. Granted, it was a fourth round pick the Bengals used, so it is not as much of a chance taken as it would to take Donald in the first. To me, Donald is absolutely worth a first round pick, even a top 15 selection.
So we factor in Donald’s main criticism coming into May’s draft and that’s his size. There is fear he may not be able to hold the point of attack in the run game. His strength is underrated here and at the 2014-scouting combine, he put on a show. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times, which was the second most amongst linemen.
To compare that to my previous examples, Suh benched 32 times and Atkins 34 times. So Donald has shown better strength then the above premium examples. Jadeveon Clowney is considered this year’s best defensive player in the draft and could wind up being the first overall pick. Clowney only bench-pressed that weight 21 times and he stands at 6’5.
What Aaron Donald gives you on the field similar to Atkins and Suh is great pass rushing ability. Donald has no trouble getting into the backfield as he recorded 11 sacks and even 28.5 tackles for loss last year at Pitt. His athleticism helps him get into the backfield quicker. Donald moves fast at his size, his 40 time at the combine was a 4.65. A defensive lineman who can move like that will raise the eyebrows of any scout.
When you watch the film oo Aaron Donald, there is a lot to like. He is a balanced interior lineman in the sense that not only is he a threat in the run game, but also a force in the pass rush. His size is a concern that he will not be able to hold his own in the run game. Turn on the film and it is rare that you see him get knocked back off the line of scrimmage. How he makes up for it is his great use of leverage. He knows how to get lower than the lineman across the ball from him and uses his strength to hold the point of attack.
His production proves that he is a force game in and game out. The first word that came to mind when I watched Donald’s film was disruptive. When you watch his games vs. Miami, Florida State and Georgia Tech, he is consistently disruptive. He is in behind the line tackling running backs and he is also using his athleticism chasing around the Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Not only did you see this same disruption in all of his games at Pitt, but also he took the same style of play to Alabama for the Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl is an opportunity for players from all different schools to make a name for themselves. Players use the Senior Bowl as a chance to boost their draft stock. We saw it last year as Eric Fisher came from a small school and showcased his size and skill. His performance helped skyrocket his stock all the way up to be the number one overall pick.
E.J. Manuel came into the Senior Bowl as one of the top rated quarterback prospects. He had a good week of practice and put on a solid performance in the game itself. That helped Manuel in April’s draft as he was the first quarterback taken off the board.
So coming into the Senior Bowl, Donald was considered that borderline first round pick and used that week of practice to solidify his status. He was constantly unblockable by some of the drafts better offensive lineman. He showed great strength vs linemen much larger than him and athleticism with his rush moves to get around them.
His performance in the game was impressive as well. When you watched the south team play, Donald was hard to ignore. He was constantly in the backfield and pressuring the quarterbacks. One of his pressures led to a rushed throw by the quarterback, which turned into an interception.
When you factor in the outstanding college production, senior bowl showcase and the scouting combine results, Aaron Donald is certainly a first round pick. I am here to argue that he is more than a late first rounder. I think that Donald could be this NFL draft’s Sheldon Richardson. The New York Jets selected Richardson with the 13th pick in the first round. I believe that Donald deserves consideration near that position.
I don’t think that Donald will be selected in the top ten and don’t feel he deserves to. With all the quarterbacks and offensive linemen that will go in the top ten that would be difficult. However, once you get out of the top ten, Donald should begin to be considered. The first team that comes to mind is the Chicago Bears at 14. They lost seven defensive starters at one point last season, so the defense needs a rebuild.
Donald would be a great fit in Chicago, but if they choose to pass on him, there are other teams down the line that could consider him. Dallas would be the next team, as they need to add to that horrid defense. Donald would help keep Sean Lee free, so Dallas is a team to be considered. After that, Miami could be a team to consider with both defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks facing free agency. Green Bay is a likely destination as well after Miami.Aaron Donald to me would be a perfect fit for a 4-3 scheme.
In the 2014 draft, Aaron Donald is one of the hidden gem players. He is a potential star in the making. As the draft gets closer, I will be interested to see how far his stock rises and where he will ultimately be selected. Donald will be an impact player from day one and could potentially be up for defensive rookie of the year in the NFL next season, he is a cant miss prospect.