By Alex Kozora
With the regular season over, our focus has shifted to the offseason. For the next few months, I’ll be providing scouting reports on prospects. Some the Pittsburgh Steelers may look at. Other top players that will be off the board before the Steelers select. All to make you as prepared for the 2014 NFL Draft as possible.
Today, a focus on a player that has earned a lot of buzz following a fantastic Senior Bowl Week. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Aaron Donald/DT Pittsburgh: 6’0/7 288
– Explosive first step
– A fine athlete
– Quick, violent hands and an excellent hand fighter
– Uses built-in leverage to his advantage, plays with good pad level
– Coordinated player, carries lower half that helps him derive power for his bull rush
– Arsenal of pass rushing moves
– Can penetrate and disrupt against the run
– Built, carries his weight well
– Good awareness, gets his hands up
– Absurdly stellar career
– Scheme versatile
– Highly decorated senior year
– Durable, missed only one game in career
– Undersized with short arms (31/6 – shortest at Senior Bowl)
– Did play in one gap scheme but can get swallowed up against the run vs base blocks
– At times, slow off the ball, needs that first step to generate power, not inherently strong
– Won’t always stay square to the ball, has to do a better job of shedding
– Needs some improvement of finishing plays, bringing the QB down
– 30 career starts
– 28.5 TFL, 11 sacks, 4 forced fumbles during his senior year
– Career: 66 TFL, 29.5 sacks, 6 FF
– Two-time All-Conference First Team (Big East in 2012, ACC 2013)
– 2013 unanimous All-American
– Winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award as a senior
– Played in a 3-4 scheme as a sophomore, with all five of his starts coming at defensive end
– Selected as the Senior Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player in practice
– Brother, Archie, played LB at Toledo from 2006-2010, recording 424 career tackles
– Top 15 Pennsylvania Prospect by Scout and Rivals coming out of high school (Penn Hills)
– 15 TFL, 11 sacks senior year of HS
Don’t let the size fool you. Donald is a dominant defensive tackle and has drawn comparisons to Geno Atkins, also a “little” DT at 6’1 293 out of college.
His lack of height has proven to be an advantage, giving him, as I noted above, a built-in leverage battle. Couple that with getting his arms extdended and a quick first step, and you have an effective bullrush. Plows the right guard into the ground against Florida St.
He’s got a real skill set as a pass rusher. Uses his hands extremely well. Active and violent.
Such a critical aspect for any pass rushing tackle. Even moreso for a tackle with short arms who can’t naturally use his length to get into a lineman’s pads. Rarely gets locked up as a pass rusher and has enough in his arsenal (rip, swim, bull, even occasional spin) to counter and keep lineman guessing.
First step makes him a disruptive force against the run, too. Seen below, left guard pulling and neither the center or left tackle can seal him . Forces the back to move laterally almost immediately on the handoff and into the arms of an unblocked Pitt defender. Didn’t make the tackle but should get credit for the “assist”.
His ability to hold the point against the run is partially reliant on that first step. If he doesn’t, or if the lineman has the ability to anchor, he can get washed.
Watch the lineman run Donald out of the frame towards the end of this play.
The other aspect that makes him look “bad” against the run is the scheme. Lot of one-gapping his senior season. Prone to getting sealed when the run isn’t to that gap. Not Donald’s fault.
Reading his bio and learning more about his career and it’s hard not to walk away even more excited about him. Since 2005, Donald is tied for the third most TFL in a season, and only George Selvie had more in a career than Donald’s 66.
Donald’s 28.5 tackles for loss were more than Jadeveon Clowney had in his freak 2012 campaign. As a team in 2013, Navy had just 39 TFL.
In his career, 52.7% of Donald’s tackles were a TFL or sack. Unbelievable to imagine.
And he dominated at the Senior Bowl. Playing against top flight competition and made guys like Baylor’s Cyril Richardson, look silly. Donald has been successful his whole life. Doesn’t automatically translate to the top level but it says something.
Even though I watched four games, he’s a guy you want to watch more film of. Not just to learn more about him, I’m confident in my scouting report at this point, but to watch him go out and dominate. Truly a guy that made playing football look easy. Fun to watch.
He may be profiled as a 4-3 one gapping under tackle but he could play in either scheme. In his sophomore year, where he recorded 11 sacks, he played defensive end in an even front. Similar to Sheldon Richardson, named defensive rookie of the year, Donald could succeed in a 3-4. Makes him more appealing to someone like the Steelers.
Donald will go high in the draft but probably not high enough to be worthy of the 15th pick. And if the team does re-sign Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, defensive end is not a high priority. But if the team trades down, who knows – stranger things have happened. Cameron Heyward and Aaron Donald (obviously unlikely to start right away)? Certainly would provide a boost to a defense with 34 sacks, tied for 25th in the league.
Projection: Late First, Early Second
Games Watched: at Syracuse (Junior), at UConn (Junior), vs Florida St, vs Miami
Previous Scouting Reports:
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
Illinois State T/G Josh Aladenoye
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
ILB Shayne Skov
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Auburn T Greg Robinson
Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman
Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III
Auburn LB Dee Ford
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
North Dakota State T Billy Turner
Boston College RB Andre Williams
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy