Last September, if you were to rank the best 3-tech DT prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft class, your list would include names like Timmy Jernigan (FSU), Anthony Johnson (LSU) and Dominique Easley (Florida). Aaron Donald (Pitt) wouldn’t have been very high on most lists. Fast forward to today and Donald is now tops on the list, following unbelievable performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine all after an historic senior campaign.
Throughout the season, Donald continuously put up enormous numbers and finished the year with 28.5 TFL’s and 11 sacks, staggering numbers for an interior lineman. Yet still, there were many questions about his size and strength, because guys who are 6-foot, 280-pounds can be eaten alive inside a professional line of scrimmage. Following the Senior Bowl and Combine, there should be no more questions.
Donald was the most impressive defensive prospect in my opinion from the entire Senior Bowl week. Notre Dame LT Zack Martin was the only guy I saw who could even slightly contain him. Then at the Combine, after checking in at just under 6-foot 1, 285-pounds, Donald ran a blistering (for a DT) 4.68 40-yard dash and put up 35 reps of 225 on bench.
To give you an idea of that kind of speed and strength, think that CB Louchiez Purifoy (Florida), once thought to be a first round corner prospect, ran a 4.61, and at 190 pounds mind you. And 35 reps? Cyrus Kouandjio, the best lineman from the best line in the country (Alabama), at 6-foot 6, 322-pounds, only put up 21 reps.
Donald may have truly been at his best, however, during the positional drills, bags especially. His quickness and agility are absolutely the best among interior linemen in this draft class, and his explosion is impressive. He showed quick, violent hands with a powerful punch to go along with his graceful footwork. All highly valuable traits in classic 3-tech DT’s, who make a living getting up field and penetrating gaps.
How high could he go in the draft? Depends on how the board shakes out. The earliest I see him going is six to the Atlanta Falcons, but I think that’s a stretch. The Falcons need help along the d-line, but they need more of an edge rusher. A more likely landing spot is at 14, to the Chicago Bears, who need a pass rushing presence inside their line, particularly if they don’t/can’t re-sign Henry Melton, or if he’s not the same player he was prior to his torn ACL last year. Regardless of the Bears situation, I don’t see him falling out of the top-20.
I think Donald is the best 3-tech DT in this class. Overall, I still think DT Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) has the highest upside of any lineman in the entire class not named Jadeveon Clowney, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Donald and his quickly rising stock.