Aaron Donald isn’t an imposing physical specimen by any means. In Indianapolis he clocked in a 285lbs and a hair below 6’1". Even for a 3-technique defensive tackle, the generally smaller breed, Donald is a bit undersized. For reference, Warren Sapp played at 6’2" 300lbs and Geno Atkins plays at 6’1 303lbs. Fortunately, size isn’t the name of the game for the role that Donald will fit. As an interior pass rusher he’ll line up either in between the center and guard (the A Gap) or between the guard and tackle (the B Gap), with the intent of shooting the gap disrupting the play behind the line.
Much to his benefit, Donald exceeded expectations during the workouts and positional drills in Indianapolis. He ran a 4.68 second 40-time (best amongst defensive tackles), put up 35 reps on the bench press (best amongst defensive tackles), and ran a 7.11 second three-cone drill (best amongst defensive tackles). Noticing a trend here?
Aaron Donald isn’t just some workout warrior. He’s got a full repertoire of moves and uses them to his advantage, something rare in a college prospect. He spins, counter spins, swims and rips fluidly like no other prospect in the class. He possesses a rare quickness of the snap that is a premium at the position. His production was so utterly ridiculous this year because of how quickly and fluidly he got off the snap, under the lineman’s pads, and into the backfield.
Against the run, Donald uses hand fighting to his advantage. His quickness makes up for his short length and lets him get onto the lineman’s pads before he gets onto his, and then he disengages when the ball carrier reaches him. Arm tackling isn’t something that Donald is prone to, he anchors, disengages and wraps with the best of them.
Rarely, and I do mean rarely, Donald can get sucked up in double teams and washed out of the play because of his lack of size. When the play isn’t immediately near him, or is run to the other side, Donald doesn’t haul ass in pursuit the way I’d like to see. That, at least, is fixable.
The 2014 Ram’s defensive is going to be exciting. It’s going to be electric. It’s going to get burned at times. That’s what Greg William’s bring to the table, and I’m sure he wouldn’t turn his nose up at such a gifted player as Aaron Donald. Alongside Michael Brockers, Chris Long, and Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald could be that last puzzle piece that makes this line the best in football. He’s something unique; something that opposing coordinators would have to plan for.
On the flip side, a lot has already been invested in our defensive line. Chris Long is making the big bucks and Robert Quinn is on his way to being the highest paid defensive end in the sport. Brockers is locked down in a rookie contract at the moment and Langford garners a healthy cap hit. Alex Carrington just came to town, albeit on a one-year deal. For a team that is looking to chase down two of the best teams in football, Donald may be a luxury pick.